Hammill said that so far, the California Democrat had only used the Air Force plane for a single January trip back to San Francisco. He added that Pelosi asked the Pentagon a number of questions regarding how the plane could be employed, such as whether it could be used solely for official business or also for political travel. The Speaker’s office also requested clarification on who can legally travel on the plane in addition to the Speaker, such as staff and supporters.
Hammill said the Pentagon has yet to respond to these specific queries. Defense Department officials did not return repeated calls to comment for this story.
Lawmaker access to military jets may be even more important now that the House has instituted new gift rules that prohibit lawmakers from using corporate jets under any circumstances.
One Republican leadership aide said Hastert routinely flew commercially, usually on United Airlines, back to his Illinois district until Sept. 11, 2001. At that point, the White House decided for security reasons the Speaker should have access to a military plane for his travel.
Despite the lack of clear restrictions on the plane’s use, the leadership aide said Hastert decided to use the plane solely for official business and not for political travel, which would have required reimbursements to the government of several thousand dollars per hour of use.
Hastert sometimes traveled on the plane, which was described as relatively small, with other staff and occasionally his wife.
“We would not use it for political business,” said the leadership aide. “We would take corporate or commercial.”
“There were no clear rules,” the aide added.
The White House would not comment on the issue and referred all questions to the Defense Department, which responded with guidance on appropriate Congressional foreign trips.
Under Defense Department rules, Members of Congress typically fly military planes for official foreign travel or for domestic trips to military bases. Before Sept. 11, 2001, the Speaker had to abide by the same rules as everyone else.
Reached by phone on Friday, ex-Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) said that he typically flew commercial like everyone else.
“I traveled almost exclusively by commercial jet. I didn’t have access to a military plane that I was aware of,” Wright said. “I do have some memory that someone called me and said there would be one available if I needed to use it, and I don’t think I ever did take them up on that.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.