In Designated Survivor (episode2 I think), President Kirkman asks the Secret Service about wearing the bullet-proof vest. His answer was "The 2 ways a president leaves the White House is with that or a ballcap out the back door"
Later in the next episode the president actually does this to revisit the capitol site.
Is this actually true for real-life presidents? Do they ever actually "go out the back door with basically no security?

Real life examples of recent presidents preferred, but not required

  • 1
    It should be noted thet the Secret Service works for the president (basically)...if he says to do something...they have to just make the best of it.
    – Paulie_D
    Feb 1, 2017 at 10:49
  • @Paulie_D i understand that, but it would seem that they would do anything possible to convince the president otherwise. As opposed to this episode where they give it as a viable option.
    – Mennyg
    Feb 1, 2017 at 13:57
  • True but don't forget we do have to suspend disbelief for TV shows.
    – Paulie_D
    Feb 1, 2017 at 14:17
  • @Paulie_D In The West Wing we see the opposite approach; although the President is the CIC, the Secret Service is still bound by rules and they get quite firm with Bartlet on multiple occasions. Whether they "win" purely because he's sensible and defers to their judgement even under duress, or because he actually has no choice in the matter legally speaking (without going through the process of changing a law or a policy written on paper) is not clear. Dec 13, 2018 at 10:47

2 Answers 2


Do they ever actually "go out the back door" with basically no security?

Probably not but it's not exactly unknown for Presidents to "go walkabout".

Obama was known for it.

The Hill.com

In Minneapolis late last month, he told a town hall meeting he liked to “tease” his Secret Service agents about how he was becoming unpredictable, before taking an unscheduled trip to a natural foods store and ice cream parlor. And in Austin earlier this week, Obama described how during a previous trip to the city, an unscheduled walk along the river had tested his detail’s nerves.

“I got about probably a mile, mile and a half, and then some people started spotting me so that by the time — Secret Service got nervous, and then by the time we got back, there was a big rope line and there was all the fuss,” Obama said.

The pull between allowing the president more freedom to engage with voters, escaping the confines of his office and the security challenges such movements create seemed crystalized in a pair of events during Obama’s trip to Denver earlier this week.

After grabbing some pizza at a photo op with individuals who had written him letters, the president decided to forgo his motorcade and instead walk down a downtown promenade. During that trip, the president was approached by — and ended up shaking hands with — a man wearing a full latex horse mask.

Later that evening, Obama dropped by a pool hall and brewery, where one patron asked Obama if he wanted to smoke pot with him.

Unscheduled trips can also have their benefits, said Mickey Nelson, who retired recently as the assistant director of the Secret Service.

“We use the element of surprise to our advantage,” Nelson said. “If we don't know were going there to the last minute, the adversary certainly doesn't know it.”

We’ve been doing unscheduled movement since we started protecting the president in 1901,” Nelson said. “We’ve done them in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. We know what we’re doing.”

The Secret Service was reluctant to discuss if they had had discussions with the president’s staff about the frequency of the president’s “off the record trips,” which are happening with greater frequency as the midterm elections approach.

  • Interesting. The truth is, Obama was the first at breaking many unspoken and unwritten traditions in the oval office. Social Media, email and I guess surprise walks is another.
    – Mennyg
    Feb 1, 2017 at 14:00
  • 1
    Your quotes have nothing to do with the question.
    – cde
    Feb 1, 2017 at 16:49
  • @cde I've tried to provide basis for an answer to the question which is, by it's very nature, probably unknowable. The Secret Service never reveals details of their actual security arrangements,
    – Paulie_D
    Feb 1, 2017 at 17:04

There has been no verified recorded instance of a President going rogue or ditching his Secret Service detail. While some Presidents have been known to go off the scheduled or vetted route, they always have had S.S. agents with them. There have been rumors of JFK heading out into DC alone, but nothing confirmed by the S. S. or news reports.

While it is possible, it's not probable that the most closely watched person on the planet sneaks out the back of the most heavily watched building on the planet.


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