The Speaker, the Air Force, and the Sergeant at Arms

Bumped and Updated: The Washington Times updates its report.

On February 4th, the Washington Times published a story asserting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested a military aircraft larger than the one Dennis Haster used in order to accommodate not just her and her staff, but her family as well as the California delegation. The article also said that Speaker Pelosi wanted to use the military plane for both personal and professional activities. I read that story and wrote a post that was critical of the speaker’s request.

Today the liberal blog Think Progress responded to the Washington Times article and to the many conservative bloggers, including me, who linked to the piece and said that we were all completely wrong, using this statement from the Sergeant at Arms as proof:

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.

Liberal commenters here at Wizbang read Think Progress’ post and the Sergeant at Arms’ statement and seemed to think that was indisputable proof that Speaker Pelosi did not make the military aircraft request that the Washington Times story said she did. These liberal commenters then demanded that I retract my post and correct it to reflect the statement:

Kim

Why don’t you address your BS story about Pelosi and the military aircraft?

Where is your retraction?

Posted by: aRepukelican at February 6, 2007 07:40 PM

Congratulations, Kim!

Your debunked BS story “Nancy Pelosi is Drunk with Power” even got a link back to Wizbang…

Didn’t you do two on the topic?

No update? No correction?

Posted by: John at February 6, 2007 08:45 PM

Kim

Cat got your tongue, Kim.

We’re eagerly awaiting your takeback on “Drunk with Power.”

Maybe you should sign your posts: “DRUNK W/ DECEIT.”

Posted by: aRepukelican at February 6, 2007 09:08 PM

I’d hate to pop their bubble, but there are a few problems with Think Progress’ argument that the Sergeant at Arms’ statement refutes the Washington Times’ claims.

The fact that the Sergeant at Arms advised Speaker Pelosi that former Speaker Hastert was given a military plane for travel back and forth to his district and she would get one as well is no bombshell. Of course Speaker Pelosi knew that the Speaker of the House got a military plane after 9/11, and I’m sure Mrs. Pelosi was very excited about using it. I know I’d be.

It’s also no big deal that the Sergeant at Arms offered to set up a meeting between the Speaker’s staff and the Air Force. That’s the Sergeant at Arms’ job – to, essentially, serve the Speaker.

I, however, found this sentence kind of interesting:

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.

Something besides the glaring comma splice stood out at me. Why would he tell the Speaker that he didn’t know certain details unless he did so in response to a request for information?

This leads me to the bigger issue: who requested the larger military aircraft and the additional uses for that aircraft?. Unfortunately, the Sergeant at Arms’ statement doesn’t give us any indications who made the request. Take a look at the last sentence of the statement:

Several questions were posed to the Air Force and we are awaiting a response.

Several questions were posed by whom? And what were those questions? We don’t know because the Sergeant at Arms doesn’t tell us, which leads me to believe that it was Speaker Pelosi’s staff. After all, if the Sergeant at Arms had asked all the questions about the size and usage of the plane, why not just come out and say so?

Therefore, in my opinion, the Sergeant at Arms’ statement does not refute the Washington Times’ piece on Nancy Pelosi’s military aircraft request, so my post stays as is.

Update: Dan Riehl isn’t buying what Think Progress is selling either.

Update II: The Washington Times has more on Pelosi’s request for a larger military aircraft:

The Bush administration has agreed to provide House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with regular access to an Air Force passenger jet, but the two sides are negotiating whether she will get the big aircraft she wants and who she may take as passengers, according to congressional and administration sources.

A congressional source said that Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, which controls the Pentagon’s spending, has telephoned administration officials to urge them to give the speaker what she wants.

The congressional source said Pentagon officials complained that Mr. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, is accusing them of sexism for not immediately heeding her request.

Megan E. Grote, Mr. Murtha’s press secretary, said, “Mr. Murtha absolutely never said anything about being ‘sexist.’ We have no further comment.”

[…]

Mrs. Pelosi wants a larger aircraft that can fly to her home district of San Francisco nonstop. She also wants to be able to ferry other members of the congressional delegation, family members and her staff.

The speaker’s request is being handled by her chief counsel, Bernard Raimo, a veteran Democratic lawyer on Capitol Hill.

“Who she can take is being worked out, outside the Air Force,” said Ed Gulick, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.

He said the Air Force is studying what types of planes are available for long, cross-country flights. Currently, three planes assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base can make such nonstop flights year-round — the C-32, C-40B and C-37.

Such VIP planes are in high demand.

“She’s effectively taking a bird out of the fleet,” said a defense 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.”

The congressional source said the speaker’s office requested an Air Force plane to take her to a weekend Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, but the Pentagon declined.

The source said Mr. Hastert on one occasion used an Air Force plane for such an event. The Air Force later determined it was a mistake, and such flights were not repeated.

The source said the Pentagon will likely give in to Mrs. Pelosi’s requests for a large plane and travel entourage, given her and Mr. Murtha’s power over defense spending.

It looks like it’s in the Pentagon’s best interest to give Speaker Pelosi what she wants.

Update III: According to ABC News, the Pentagon has declined Pelosi’s request for a larger military aircraft, a C-32 from what Republicans officials are saying. Here’s what the Pentagon’s usage rules are for Speaker Pelosi, as outlined by ABC News:

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr J.D. Gordon outlined the rules and restrictions governing Speaker Pelosi’s use of the C-20:

No more than 10 passengers (C-20’s only seat 12 passengers, not including up to 5 crew members);

No travel to political events;

Members of the Speaker’s family cannot fly unless the Speaker puts a request in writing. The Pelosi family has to reimburse the US Treasury for the cost of a coach ticket per person for the travel, as well as for any food;

Members of Congress cannot fly on the plane unless their travel has been cleared with the House Committee on Standards (the Ethics committee);

Pelosi’s husband can travel for free, but only for official protocol purposes.

In response to the Pentagon offer, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly tells ABC News, “We appreciate the Defense Department’s continuing concern for the Speaker’s security. We are reviewing their letter.”

Greg Tinti notes that there could be a solution to all this:

There’s something called…a C-37A. And as far as I can tell from this, it’s a C-20 with a big enough fuel tank to make it to and from San Fran.

So, for the love of Pete, give one to Pelosi so she can make it across the country without having to stop to refuel and let’s move on.

Yes, I agree.

Update IV: ABC News is also reporting that the plane Pelosi requested was a C-32, which has these amenities:

Various Republican officials in recent days have claimed that Pelosi has requested a C-32 plane for her travels — a luxurious and specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner. The plane seats 45 passengers with business-class accommodations and a crew of up to 16, depending on the mission. It features a communications center, a fully enclosed stateroom for the primary passenger, a changing area, a conference facility, an entertainment system, and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed. The C-32 can cost as much as $22,000 an hour to operate. It’s normally used by the first lady, the vice president, Cabinet officials and members of Congress upon request.

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