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White House Says United Video Is 'Troubling' as Lawmakers Question Incident

Democrats on the Hill have called for an investigation as well as potential new legislation to protect the rights of airline passengers.
Image: Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., attends a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to oppose efforts to defund women's health care, January 6, 2016.Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP

White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the widespread video of a man being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight “troubling,” but cautioned that a full review of the incident should be completed before drawing a final conclusion.

“I don't think anyone looks at that video and isn’t a little disturbed that another human being is treated that way,” Spicer said during Tuesday’s White House briefing.

He said he is sure President Donald Trump has seen the clip of the passenger being dragged off the airplane after refusing to leave the overbooked flight, but added that the video alone does not justify “necessarily needing a federal response.”

Democratic and some Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however, weighed in Tuesday with questions surrounding the incident. Democrats ratcheted up their calls for an investigation into the incident as well as potential new legislation to protect the rights of airline passengers after two seemingly callous responses from the airline's CEO.

The top Senators on the Senate Commerce Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee, which include Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), sent letters to the Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz questioning the passenger's forcible removable.

Twenty-one Democratic senators also sent a letter to Munoz that said they were "deeply concerned" about the incident and asked for answers.

“Consumer trust and confidence are critical to ensure this industry continues to thrive, and we hope United Airlines will work diligently to immediately address this incident and make necessary improvements to ensure it does not occur again,” the letter read.

The ranking Democrats on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and House Subcommittee on Aviation also sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting a review of the event.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., whose district includes United’s headquarters in Chicago, said in a statement Monday she is “absolutely appalled” by the video that shows aviation security dragging a man with a bloodied face.

“United Airlines must immediately change their policy and give full restitution and compensation to the victim. This is far from the end of the story,” she said.

Washington, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was among the first members of Congress to express outrage after seeing the video that ignited a social media firestorm. She has vowed to write a letter to the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and aviation subcommittee requesting a hearing.

“I am asking our committee for a hearing, which will allow us to question airport police, United Airlines personnel, and airport officials, among others, about whether appropriate procedures were in place in Chicago and are in place across the United States when passengers are asked to leave a flight,” she said in a statement

One lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, even vowed to boycott the airliner.

“I will not fly #United anymore. Further, it's time for govt to investigate their repeated abuses toward passengers,” he tweeted.

Another Democrat, Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, attempted to link the the incident to Republicans and President Donald Trump.

“Two weeks ago, House Republicans passed a bill allowing companies to sell your internet browsing history. Last week, President Trump delayed implementation of investor protections...This week, United Airlines bludgeons a passenger and the CEO calls it a ‘re-accommodation.’ Do consumers have any rights left?” he said in a Facebook post.

Though Republicans have been mostly mum on the United fiasco, protections for airline passengers have garnered bipartisan support in the past. Former Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Cali., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, co-sponsored a passenger bill of rights, first introduced in 2007, which helped spur new regulations to ensure fair treatment for flyers.

Those protections do not, however, prevent passengers from being bumped from an overbooked flight. That was the case during United flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky when no one took the airline up on a voucher offer to allow the airline to accommodate United employees who the airline said needed to get to Louisville.

Munoz apologized in a public statement Monday, but sent an internal letter to employees saying the passenger was "politely asked" but “each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent."

On Tuesday, Munoz issued a new apology.

"I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way," he said.