New House Speaker Says She Needs Nonstop Transcontinental
Washington lawmakers are steamed over the Bush administration's
plans to provide House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with access to an Air
Force passenger jet. The reasons go beyond the usual political
wrangling and rhetoric, however... or at least, so they
The Washington Times reports Pelosi requested access to any one
of three larger planes currently in use for government transport.
The Bush Administration agreed to grant the new House Speaker
access to the USAF fleet, maintained by the 89th Airlift Wing at
Andrews Air Force Base, though negotiations are still underway as
to what type and size of aircraft Pelosi will be able to use.
Opponents to the plan aren't necessarily criticizing Pelosi for
wanting access to the fleet -- it's a common "perk" available to
Capitol Hill lawmakers -- but rather Pelosi's assertion she needs
regular access to the larger, VIP-level aircraft she says she needs
to travel nonstop from Washington, DC to her home district in
Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida told the
Times Pelosi's request amounts to "an arrogance of office that just
defies common sense." He added such access would be "a major
deviation from the previous speaker."
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert used a smaller C-20B (a
variant of the Gulfstream III) to travel to and from his district
in Illinois; prior to 9/11, the House Speaker usually flew on the
airlines. In addition to smaller jets, a C-32, C-40B and C-37A --
military variants of the Boeing 757-200 (shown below) and
737-700, and Gulfstream V (above), respectively -- are
available for longer-range flights by House personnel, or for trips
requiring a large entourage.
Critics say Pelosi told the administration she needs the bigger
planes not only because of the distance required, and the added
security necessary during refueling stops... but also so she can
take other congressional members, as well as family and staff,
along for the ride.
One Defense Department source told the Times Pelosi's request
amounted to "carte blanche" use of the larger aircraft, and the
House Speaker wants privileges usually reserved for President Bush
and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Cheney also travels on aircraft in
the Andrews fleet; Bush, of course, uses one of two
specially-equipped Boeing 747s.
"She's effectively taking a bird out of the fleet," said the
unnamed source. "It will most directly impact the House, because
they're the heavy users of the large aircraft. Congress looks at
that Andrews fleet as their Hertz rent-a-car."
A Pelosi aide referred all questions on the matter to the Air
Force, which is said to be studying the request along with lawyers
at the Pentagon and the White House. A congressional source told
the Times the speaker's office already asked for an Air Force plane
to ferry her to a Democratic retreat in Virginia last weekend, but
the request was denied.
North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry termed the speaker's
request for a larger plane "Pelosi One." Several other Republican
lawmakers made similar statements.
So, it's at least a little about politics.