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Pelosi to Fly in Air Force Plane

Service to Provide Bigger Jet

The Defense Department has agreed to furnish House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with a jet big enough to fly nonstop coast-to-coast, despite complaints from some Republicans that the request was causing friction at the Pentagon.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for the Speaker, said Friday that Pelosi had asked the Pentagon for “clarification” on rules governing her use of military planes. After Sept. 11, 2001, the Speaker was granted access to military transport for additional security, given the person in that job is third in the line of succession to the presidency.

The plane used by former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) for frequent trips back to his Illinois home was a small, Lear-type jet, according to a Republican leadership aide. But that plane needs to refuel every 2,000 miles and could not make the nonstop haul to California.

“The Air Force determined that [Pelosi’s] safety would be best ensured by using a plane that has the fuel capacity to go coast-to-coast,” Hammill said. “All we’re asking for is what Hastert had.”

Hammill pointed to the busier Congressional work schedule as a reason why it was necessary to avoid lengthy layovers, especially in Plains States, where harsh winter weather could cause further delays.

“There’s a certain amount of inefficiency and risk involved in stopping and having to refuel,” he said.

On Friday, Pelosi’s office waded into the growing public relations battle over how the Speaker travels and with whom. The Washington Times reported last week that Pelosi was demanding permanent access to a large military jet for herself, her staff, other Members and supporters.

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.”

But Hammill denied any substantial controversy with the Pentagon brass. “Were not talking about major negotiations here. We’re talking about a few phone calls seeking clarification.”

One administration official said that the new Speaker had asked that a plane be designated for her use in traveling to the Democratic retreat late last week in Williamsburg, Va., which is 152 miles from Washington, D.C.

Hammill confirmed that Pelosi had asked the Pentagon for guidance regarding the use of military aircraft for Congressional retreats.

“The request was to clarify whether retreats are covered,” Hammill said. “We had the knowledge that Hastert had used [a military plane] for a retreat on one occasion.”

Ultimately, Pelosi did not use the plane to travel to the retreat; the administration official said that request had been denied.

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