While Congress Investigates GM, Washington Leadership Will Drive Around in Its Cars

Chevrolet Suburbans make up the vast majority of security cars for congressional leaders and the president, even as Congress grills GM over safety failures.

National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
June 18, 2014, 1:05 a.m.

If you walk around the Cap­it­ol when Con­gress is in ses­sion, you’ll see about a dozen Chev­ro­let Sub­urbans — and one or two Fords — parked just out­side the doors to each cham­ber, wait­ing for mem­bers of the lead­er­ship to exit for the day. The same vehicles make up much of Pres­id­ent Obama’s mo­tor­cade and were pop­u­lar in the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion as well.

The pop­ular­ity of the Sub­urbans as a mode of trans­port and se­cur­ity is oddly un­ex­plained on the Hill. But the truly un­usu­al thing about the de­cision to en­trust the safety of many of the na­tion’s lead­ers to these par­tic­u­lar cars is that Gen­er­al Mo­tors, which owns Chev­ro­let, is un­der con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­a­tion over some­times-fatal safety flaws.

Mem­bers of the House’s En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee will hold an­oth­er hear­ing with GM ex­ec­ut­ives on Wed­nes­day morn­ing over the com­pany’s re­call of more than 17 mil­lion vehicles na­tion­wide this year. And if it’s any­thing like the last hear­ing in April, it will be con­ten­tious.

The de­cision to haul con­gres­sion­al lead­ers and pres­id­ents around in GM cars is a dif­fi­cult one to ex­plain, as it ap­pears that no one on Cap­it­ol Hill is aware — or, per­haps, will­ing to dis­cuss — just who made that choice.

The fund­ing for leas­ing vehicles for lead­er­ship goes to the chief ad­min­is­trat­ive of­ficer for the House’s of­fice, though a spokes­man there said that they do not se­lect the cars, ini­tially of­fer­ing that they were pur­chased by in­di­vidu­al lead­er­ship of­fices. A spokes­man for House Speak­er John Boehner said that his of­fice didn’t lease the cars, either. Over in the Sen­ate, the ser­geant at arms’ of­fice said only that the cars could be chosen from among any Amer­ic­an car man­u­fac­turer, but did not say who makes that de­cision. A spokes­wo­man for the Cap­it­ol Po­lice did not say who pur­chases or leases the vehicles either, adding: “The USCP does not dis­cuss se­cur­ity re­lated mat­ters — in­form­a­tion about our law en­force­ment de­signed vehicles is se­cur­ity re­lated and se­cur­ity sens­it­ive.”.

In an in­ter­view, the chief ad­min­is­trat­ive of­ficer’s spokes­man wouldn’t dis­cuss who pur­chases the vehicles on the re­cord but said that the Sub­urbans have be­come pop­u­lar be­cause they have been “deemed suit­able for safety.”

That’s an in­ter­est­ing way of put­ting it, giv­en that the auto­maker is un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion for in­stalling faulty ig­ni­tion switches in its vehicles, which has lead to at least 13 deaths. Those is­sues have not been found to be present in Chev­ro­let Sub­urbans, however, al­though the com­pany did is­sue a re­call on the 2015 mod­el due to an is­sue with the auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sion. The Cap­it­ol Po­lice spokes­wo­man said that the de­part­ment’s Vehicle Main­ten­ance Di­vi­sion “reg­u­larly en­sures that vehicles meet safety re­quire­ments.”

Mem­bers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, who will grill GM CEO Mary Barra on Wed­nes­day, are wor­ried about a cor­por­ate cul­ture at the com­pany that has al­lowed prob­lems with its vehicles to be swept un­der the rug. “It seems that it had to be in­ten­tion­al,” rank­ing mem­ber Di­ana De­Gette, D-Colo., said.

When asked about the irony of lead­er­ship be­ing driv­en around in vehicles made by the very auto­maker his sub­com­mit­tee is in­vest­ig­at­ing, the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee’s Over­sight and In­vest­ig­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said he hadn’t put the two to­geth­er.

“I don’t get driv­en around in one of those,” Murphy said. “I drive a Ford.”

This post was up­dated at 11:11 a.m. with com­ments from the U.S. Cap­it­ol Po­lice.

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