Nancy Pelosi’s Private Military Plane

Rowan Scarborough reported last week that Nancy Pelosi was petitioning for “regular military flights not only for herself and her staff, but also for relatives and for other members of the California delegation. A knowledgeable source called the request ‘carte blanche for an aircraft any time.'”

Now, Rachel Van Dongen of Roll Call has learned that the Defense Department has acceded to this request. John Byrne at Raw Story provides excerpts from the subscriber-only story.

A Bush administration official and a senior Hill Republican said that Pelosi’s requests were causing serious friction in the Pentagon, which views them as a strain on a system that is charged with providing military transport for Cabinet officials and top generals and commanders. A permanent large plane for Pelosi, the Hill Republican said, would mean less availability for other high-ranking officials.

“The Department of Defense offered Speaker Pelosi the same aircraft” as the one used by Hastert, said one senior Republican who has spoken extensively with Defense Department officials about Pelosi’s requests. “She found it was not big enough for staff, supporters and other Members.”

It strikes me as quite odd indeed that the Speaker, let alone her “supporters,” would be entitled to transportation in military aircraft. Apparently, this is just another way in which 9/11 “changed everything.” From Scarborough’s piece:

The rules for congressional travel on military aircraft are contained in Defense Department Directive 4515.12. Congressional access to military passenger jets is generally restricted to official trips abroad, or for domestic flights to military bases or events to which the Pentagon invited the lawmaker. Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. changed the procedure in the case of the speaker.

U.S. Air Force travel for VIPs such as members of Congress is first-rate. The planes are staffed with stewards who serve meals and tend an open bar. Communications suites allow members to conduct business while traveling.

Such flights are one of Congress’ cherished perquisites, providing lawmakers a chance to visit foreign lands at government expense. Official duties are often mixed with sightseeing and fine dining. But trips to war zones are not junkets. Since the September 11 attacks, the Air Force has flown hundreds of congressional delegations, or “co-dels,” to various war theaters. Mrs. Pelosi just completed a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.

While the Speaker of the House is certainly more important than your average cabinet official, the “security” argument strikes me as an awfully thin pretext for elected leaders helping themselves to the perquisites of power.

UPDATE: Nico Pitney publishes a statement from the House Sergeant-at-Arms, who works for Pelosi:

In December 2006, I advised Speaker Pelosi that the US Air Force had made an airplane available to Speaker Hastert for security and communications purposes following September 11, 2001.

I told Speaker Pelosi that Speaker Hastert used the Air Force plane for travel to and from his district, however, I was uncertain of the rules and guidelines governing use of the plane. I offered to call the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense to seek clarification of the guidelines.

Subsequently, several members of the Speaker’s staff and members of the Office of the Sergeant at Arms met with representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Air Force liaison office to discuss the rules and guidelines which governed Speaker Hastert’s use of a plane. Several questions were posed to the Air Force and we are awaiting a response.

Contrary to Pitney’s “fact check,” this hardly proves the Washington Times account is “false.” As to his specific conclusions:

The House Sergeant at Arms, not Pelosi, initiated inquiries into the use of military aircraft. Important people have their subordinates handle such matters. Nothing in Livingood’s statement indicates he took “initiative.” Indeed, while he “advised” Pelosi about the plane, he doesn’t say he brought the matter up to begin with.

A larger plane was requested because Hastert’s plane required refueling to travel cross-country. Nothing in Livingood’s statement says that. That’s what a Pelosi spokesman claims.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. It sounds like Pelosi is trying to live, as Fred Barnes suggested on the “Beltway Boys”, as a “czarina.” Hopefully, with all the attention this is getting, she will back off.

  2. Anderson says:

    I dunno. 2d in line of succession, right behind the Veep? The lady has a point.

  3. James Joyner says:

    I dunno. 2d in line of succession, right behind the Veep?

    That’s rather like saying we should keep two clean shirts tucked away at the office, in case we spill something on the shirt we wore in that day and the spare we keep in the desk drawer.

    In the 218 years we’ve been under the current governmental system, we’ve needed a spare, spare tire exactly zero times. And that’s even though we had a vacancy in the VP slot numerous times numerous times before the passage of the 25th Amendment.

    Indeed, come to think of it, you’re a hell of a lot more likely to damage two tires at the same time than Pelosi is to become president. And yet you probably only carry the one spare.

  4. jeff b says:

    Many of these military planes are abused. Here’s a nice photo of a USCG C-37A parked next to an Air Force C-37A in Switzerland. What were they doing there? Ferrying 2nd-tier administration officials to Davos. Funny that they couldn’t share the same flight…

    http://www.airliners.net/open.file?id=1036083

  5. just me says:

    While the cost of ferrying Pelosi around in granduer may be a miniscule portion of the budget, demanding big planes to ferry around the entourage seems to be putting on aires.

    I think somehow Pelosi thinks she is far more powerful and important than she really is. I am willing to bet once you get outside of political junkies, most people don’t even know her name.

  6. legion says:

    While I agree the “entourage” addition raises eyebrows, I’d point out to James that, technically at least, Gerald Ford was a “spare-spare”…

  7. DaveD says:

    I think Pelosi realizes this is very likely as close as she is ever gonna get to Presidency and so she’s gonna darn well make the most of it.

  8. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    So this is how the liberal elites behave. We are all equal, some of them are just more equal than others. She should fly commercial and use the saved money to help the poor. You know, the ones that work for her and her cronies.

  9. Jim Henley says:

    Pelosi’s kind of . . . hot, for a 66-year-old woman.

  10. Michael says:

    While I agree with James that the chances of the speaker ascending to the Presidency directly is very slim, I can still understand making some arrangements to keep her safe while traveling.

    That said, and I don’t mean to be insensitive here, but her staff, family and friends are not required to ensure the office of the President, so anyone who can’t fit on the same flight as Pelosi should be seeking alternate means.

    Anyone who can fit, however, should be allowed, since it’s more cost effective to fill the aircraft that is going to fly anyway, then have them take up room on a commercial airline.

  11. bains says:

    Gerald Ford was a “spare-spare”…
    Good scores for artistic interpretation, low scores for technical merit. Once confirmed, VP Ford became the primary “spare.” Had Speaker Albert assumed the office of President, he would have been a “spare spare.”

    Granting Speaker Pelosi USAF shuttle service is fine – as well as all releasing all the records of destinations and expenses for travels requested by the Speaker when Pelosi is not part of the entourage.

  12. Michael says:

    Zelsdorf,
    Funny you didn’t feel that way about Hastert, or the current President’s cabinet officials.

  13. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Michael, I do not recall Denny Hastert making a request for larger accomidations to carry his family and friends on junkets and futher, Speaker Hastert did not show tendencies of being a power hungry maniac. An increase in the minimum wage for all but Guam, where her supporter Star Kist would have to pay its workers more to can tuna. How liberal is that?

  14. James Joyner says:

    Gerald Ford was a “spare-spare”…

    Agree with Bains on this one. Agnew resigned and Nixon appointed a successor with the consent of the Senate. That made Ford just the “spare.”

  15. lily says:

    This story started with Moonie Times and went from there to rightwingers in what laughably is referred to as the MSM. The truth is that the sargeant at arms suggested to Pelosi that she avail herself of the military plane the former Speaker had been using since 1995. Use of the plane had been accepted practice when the Republicans were the majority and not a peep of criticism appeared on any righhtwing newspaper, blog or TV show.. She said OK, but it turned out that the plane that Hastert had used could not fly nonstop, so she was given a different one.
    Any criticisms directed toward Pelosi should be directed to Hasker as well.

    Or better yet, recognize that rightwing sources are suspect and fact check before posting. This story comes from the same folks that started the madrassa lie. It is typical Noise Machine crap.

  16. bains says:

    Or better yet, recognize that rightwing sources are suspect and fact check before posting. This story comes from the same folks that started the madrassa lie. It is typical Noise Machine crap.

    Say Lily, how about reading what is written rather that what you think they write. With perhaps one gut-wrenched partisan exception here, (wing-nut if you will, but you’ve plenty of moonbats on your side doing similar things), no one is denying Speaker Pelosi of privileges many former Speakers have had.

    And in that light, your objection is, unsurprisingly, “typical noise machine crap.”

  17. alison says:

    STATEMENT BY SERGEANT AT ARMS

    In December 2006, I advised Speaker Pelosi that the US Air Force had made an airplane available to Speaker Hastert for security and communications purposes following September 11, 2001.

    I told Speaker Pelosi that Speaker Hastert used the Air Force plane for travel to and from his district, however, I was uncertain of the rules and guidelines governing use of the plane. I offered to call the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense to seek clarification of the guidelines.

    Subsequently, several members of the Speaker’s staff and members of the Office of the Sergeant at Arms met with representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Air Force liaison office to discuss the rules and guidelines which governed Speaker Hastert’s use of a plane. Several questions were posed to the Air Force and we are awaiting a response.

  18. gaystereotype says:

    When Denny Hastert was using the plane how angry did it make you all?

  19. LJD says:

    Well I guess you reap what you sow. It seems the average constituent is well conditioned to respond to such stories with tit-for-tat partisan finger pointing. Meanwhile the spending continues and no one asks the question why the hell an elected official of ANY party affilitiaion thinks it is o.k. to go on expense paid vacations, with complimentary drinks, all on the tax payer. The same constituents packed into a 747 like rats and paying top dollar for a can of bud and 1/2 ounce of snack mix.

    All those previously complaining of pork must instantly silence themselves.

  20. Bandit says:

    I guess Pelosi meant ethics reform for the little people – which is always how the libs want it.

  21. Michigan-Matt says:

    During the 1984 Prez campaign cycle, I was sent to pick up Malcolm Baldridge (Secy of Commerce) and his aide from the local airport and deliver him to a fundraiser. Stir, shake, 15 minute speech, return undamaged.

    He landed in a small Cessna. But before he touched down, Bob Dole rolled in a huge GulfStream provided by 3M. The jet’s staff exited the plane, Baldridge went up and in 10 minutes he was out and the GulfStream headed back to DC. In those few moments, I learned from the jet staff that when the Sen Leader asks for a jet to go somewhere, they always worked hard to accomodate him.

    Jet travel, whether by military or corporate, is rarely considered a perq by the requesting party… it’s a right of fame.

    It’s why we need another Contract with America reformation movement.

  22. lily says:

    Thank you for fact checkinng the story. I mixed up the dates–the former speaker got a plane after the 911 event, not in 1995. However, I was right abou,t everything else–it was a story that stared with the Washington Times, the situation has beeb misrepresented as Pelosi demanding for unprecidented privileges when, in fact, the previous Speaker use a plane with no criticism from the right. Pelosi didnn’t demand a bigger plane. The usual one doesn’t go nonstop and she needed at nonstop one. So there is no story about her unless there is also a story about Hastert.

  23. Frank says:

    They force us to pay into social security, but don’t pay in themselves.

    They tell us to tighten our belts, and that taxes must be raised, but increase their substantial salaries.

    They initiate more regulations at airports to delay our flights, but themselves fly in ever larger personal jets.

    Why are government officials treated better than the citizens who they supposedly serve? Why is the security of the Speaker or even the President more important than the security of the citizens they serve? Our President is supposedly interchangeable, not in the person important, but rather in the office. Why then must the President be protected at all cost and expense, but not the citizens who he supposedly serves?

    Are we subjects or citizens?

  24. Nancy says:

    WAHHHH! WAHHHH! Its my party and I can cry if I want to. Give me Air Force 3 or I will direct my evil menopause powers on you. I’ll turn your water into blood, rain frogs on your pointless lives, choke your lungs with gnats, drive you mad with flies, afflict your livestock with diseases, torments your body with boils, rain hail on you, swarm your land with locusts, cast you into darkness, and then I come for your first born child. I’ll get you my pretties and your little dog too. MWAH HA HA Give me what I want and I’ll go away…for now…and then I’ll be back to demand more because I’m the queen of the ball and more important than any ever born.

  25. Give me Air Force 3 or I will direct my evil menopause powers on you.
    Posted by: Nancy at February 8, 2007 11:18

    Very mature, Nancy.

    1) The House Sergeant at Arms, not Pelosi, initiated inquiries into the use of military aircraft. House Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood, who has served in his position since 1995, released a statement today clarifying the facts. He writes, “In December 2006, I advised Speaker Pelosi that the US Air Force had made an airplane available to Speaker Hastert for security and communications purposes following September 11, 2001.” Additionally, Livingood writes, “I offered to call the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense to seek clarification of the guidelines [which governed Speaker Hastert’s use of a plane].”

    2) A larger plane was requested because Hastert’s plane required refueling to travel cross-country. The Washington Times says a larger plane was requested to accomodate Pelosi, “her staff, other Members and supporters.” That’s not true. In fact, the plane used by Speaker Hastert was too small for Pelosi since it “needs to refuel every 2,000 miles and could not make the nonstop haul to California. ‘The Air Force determined that [Pelosi’s] safety would be best ensured by using a plane that has the fuel capacity to go coast-to-coast,'” a Pelosi spokesperson said.

    If this is the case and Pelosi needs a non-stop according to the Air Force, wouldn’t it be nice if every member of Congress, Democrat and Republican, who flies home to California every weekend on the taxpayer’s dime, had access to the flight? It would save a lot of money wouldn’t it?
    I hope Speaker Pelosi invites the members of Congress to save taxpayer money. It sure would shut people up on yet another non-issue.

  26. of course Pelosi should have the plane. Shame on msnbc for talking about this every few minutes to create news. Thank you for mentioning Dennis Hastert had a plane, but she has farther to go to S.F.