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"Speaker Pelosi Wants to Expand Hastert Use of Military Planes"



Friday, February 2, 2007

Speaker Pelosi Wants to Expand Hastert Use of Military Planes
By Rowan Scarborough
The Washington (DC) Times


The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pressing the Bush administration
for routine access to military aircraft for domestic flights, such as trips
back to her San Francisco district, according to sources familiar with the
discussions.

The sources, who include those in Congress and in the administration, said
the Democrat is seeking 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."

"They are pressing the point of her succession and that the [Department of
Defense] needs to play ball with the speaker's needs," one source said. The
request originally went to the Pentagon, which then asked the White House to
weigh in.

Mrs. Pelosi's request is not new for a speaker, who is second-in-line in
presidential succession. A defense source said the speaker's regular access
to a military plane began after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Rep. J.
Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who was speaker at the time, started
using U.S. Air Force planes for domestic travel to and from his district for
security reasons. A former Hastert aide said the congressman did not use
military planes for political trips or regularly transport his family.

The defense source said Mr. Hastert requested a plane with good
communications so he could conduct legislative business. The military
flights increased to the point the speaker used a military plane for many,
if not all, flights to his Illinois district, the former aide said.

Sources said Mrs. Pelosi's request goes beyond what Mr. Hastert received.
The speaker's legal counsel is spearheading the talks.

An aide to Mrs. Pelosi, who asked not to be named, confirmed yesterday that
discussions are ongoing with the administration. "It would be done for
security reasons," said the aide, adding that the speaker has used military
aircraft for at least one trip back to San Francisco.

The aide asserted that the administration was using a Washington Times
reporter, in effect, to negotiate with the speaker's office by leaking
information about Mrs. Pelosi's request. Asked if the speaker was seeking
increased access to military planes, the aide took the question, but did not
call back.

A Pentagon spokesman referred questions to Mrs. Pelosi's office. A White
House spokeswoman said last night she had no information on the request.

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.

Upon her return, she repeated her demand that President Bush not send more
troops to Iraq.

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