Secret Service Protection, Explained

Members of the Secret Service wait as President Joe Biden arrives at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on May 31, 2023. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. complained last week that he’s been denied Secret Service protection by the Biden administration. “Since the assassination of my father in 1968, candidates for president are provided Secret Service protection. But not me,” Kennedy tweeted. 

But determinations on who receives Secret Service protection isn’t as black-and-white as Kennedy suggests.

What’s the criteria for Secret Service protection?

The original purpose of the Secret Service—established in 1865—was to suppress the circulation of counterfeit currency. While that remains a responsibility of the agency, its mission was expanded to include protection services following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded those services again in 1968—the day after Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot campaigning for president—to include “major presidential and vice presidential candidates.”

But whether a candidate is considered a “major” candidate is ultimately decided by the secretary of homeland security in consultation with an advisory committee made up of the speaker of the House, the House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and one other member chosen by the other members of the committee. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and advisory committee consider only candidates who submit a formal application for Secret Service protection.

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