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.'”
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.