Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) talks about being stopped by security at the airport… (Erik Schelzig, Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — Sen. Rand Paul was stopped from boarding a flight at the Nashville airport Monday after refusing a security pat-down, setting off a mini-firestorm over a pet issue for the tea party favorite.
The senator's office said the Kentucky Republican was headed to Washington when he triggered an alarm in a body scanner and was asked to consent to a TSA pat-down. Paul refused.
The Transportation Security Administration and the senator offered different accounts of what happened next. The senator was taken to a cubicle and "told to stay there," Paul spokeswoman Moira Bagley said.
A TSA official said the senator was told he couldn't proceed to the gate, but he was never detained.
"When an irregularity is found during the TSA screening process, it must be resolved prior to allowing a passenger to proceed to the secure area of the airport," TSA spokesman Greg Soule said in a statement.
Word of the incident spread quickly after the senator called Bagley from the airport, and she reported the news on Twitter.
"Just got a call from @senrandpaul. He's currently being detained by TSA in Nashville," Bagley tweeted.
Her message was followed by another from the official Twitter account of the presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul, the senator's father: "My son @SenRandPaul being detained by TSA for refusing full body pat-down after anomaly in body scanner in Nashville."
Paul was eventually escorted out of the security area. He booked another flight and "was rescreened without incident," Soule said.
That did not put the episode to rest. The elder Paul seized on the politics, issuing a statement that touted his own budget proposal, which eliminates the TSA.
"The police state in this country is growing out of control. One of the ultimate embodiments of this is the TSA that gropes and grabs our children, our seniors, and our loved ones and neighbors with disabilities. The TSA does all of this while doing nothing to keep us safe," the congressman said in a statement.
That prompted the White House to defend the TSA.
"I think it is absolutely essential that we take the necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe, and I believe that's what TSA is tasked with doing," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
TSA policies are a regular target for both Pauls. At a June hearing, the senator confronted TSA Administrator John Pistole about a 6-year-old Kentucky girl reportedly patted down.
"I think I feel less safe because you're doing these invasive searches on a 6-year-old. It makes me think you're clueless. If you think she's going to attack our country and that you're not doing our research on the people who would attack our country," the younger Paul said.