February 8, 2007
Speaker to get Hastert's plane
By Charles Hurt and Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times
The Department of Defense yesterday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that puts limits on the size of the plane she may use to travel across the country and restricts the guests she can bring, The Washington Times has learned.
A congressional source who read the letter signed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Wilkie said it essentially limits her to the commuter plane used by former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, which requires refueling to travel from Washington to Mrs. Pelosi's San Francisco district. A second source, in the Bush administration, confirmed the contents of the letter.
The Washington Times first reported last week that Mrs. Pelosi's staff was pressing the Department of Defense for an Air Force aircraft large enough to fly nonstop to San Francisco. She also has pressed to be able to include other members of the California congressional delegation, her family members and her staff on the plane.
"It's not a question of size. It's a question of distance," Mrs. Pelosi told reporters yesterday. "We want an aircraft that can reach California."
Earlier, Mrs. Pelosi did not comment on the matter but yesterday began a counteroffensive accusing the Bush administration of twisting the story.
These "misrepresentations could be coming from the administration," she told reporters yesterday.
"One would only have to wonder why," she said, though adding that she did not suspect President Bush "because he has impressed upon me over and over again the need for me to have the security that I need."
The letter from the Pentagon yesterday cites specific U.S. Code that government policy does not include the routine use of military aircraft for the speaker of the House.
"Nonstop service is not guaranteed, meaning she's getting Hastert's plane and nothing bigger," the congressional source said, referring to the commuter jet Mr. Hastert began using for security reasons after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
But the administration official said Mrs. Pelosi "wanted to be able to fly between Washington and the West Coast nonstop."
The letter leaves open the possibility that Mrs. Pelosi may get a larger plane that does not require refueling if one happens to be available in the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. But, generally, the larger military passenger jets are in high demand, especially due to the Iraq war.
In addition, the letter stipulates that the Air Force will only fly her between Washington and her San Francisco district and places limits on who can travel with her.
The Washington Times reported earlier this week that the Pentagon denied a request by Mrs. Pelosi to fly on a military aircraft to last weekend's Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, a two-hour drive from Washington.
"Non-governmental personnel, i.e. political supporters and contributors, may not fly," the congressional source said yesterday, paraphrasing the letter sent to Mrs. Pelosi. "The plane may not ferry her to any political events and other members may only accompany her after approval by the House ethics committee, which means Republicans would have to OK it."
Immediate family members who fly with her must pay the U.S. Treasury for the flight.
Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly acknowledged the letter but declined to get into specifics about it.
"We appreciate the Defense Department's continuing concern for the speaker's security," he said. "We are reviewing their letter."
Mr. Daly said the negotiations with the Pentagon and the Air Force over using a larger plane is a matter of security based on her position as second in line to the presidency.
"The military is saying she needs this for her security," he said yesterday afternoon. "She's the speaker of the House."
But the congressional source noted that no speaker of the House has ever succeeded to the presidency.
"Just because she's second in line to be president does not entitle her to a military taxi service around the United States," the source said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday that while negotiations were continuing between Mrs. Pelosi's office and the Pentagon, she would ultimately have some sort of military transport at her disposal.
"The Department of Defense is going through its rules and regulations and having conversations with the speaker about it," he said. "So Speaker Hastert had access to military aircraft, and Speaker Pelosi will too."
In an interview on Fox News, Mrs. Pelosi said the plane request was not hers.
"I wish I didn't have to have so much security, because I like my freedom of mobility," she said, adding that she would be willing to fly commercial aviation. "I'm not asking to go on that plane. If you need to take me there for security purposes, you're going to have to get a plane that goes across the country."
But Mrs. Pelosi's requests for the larger jet still has drawn ridicule from Republicans, who have dubbed the requested plane "Pelosi One."
It's especially galling, they say, since Mrs. Pelosi and her fellow Democrats ran on campaigns to clear out many of the perks provided to lawmakers.
One of the first changes she made to the rules governing House members was to ban free air travel by members of Congress on corporate-owned or chartered planes.
The "jumbo request," as one Republican called it, also comes at a time when Democrats are trying to push through Congress a resolution that sending 21,500 reinforcement troops to Iraq "is not in the national interest of the United States."
"So let's get this straight," Republican Study Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said in a statement yesterday that reproduced a picture of a transcontinental U.S. military jet. "During a week in which Democrats are pushing a resolution that states, 'it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq,' they believe that securing Speaker Pelosi the military plane pictured below for luxury flights is in the national interest?"