Military Tapped to Haul Members Across Town
Members of Congress routinely travel on Defense Department airplanes to far-flung corners of the world, but it turns out they sometimes request military transport to go no farther than Farragut Square.
Documents obtained by Roll Call indicate that Members of Congress occasionally ask the Pentagon for military transportation for Congressional delegations heading to the White House or across town for a ceremonial event.
Congressional staff say it is rare but not extraordinary for the military to provide buses to shuttle large groups of Members of Congress and staff to official events in D.C.
For example, in March 2007, then-House Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) asked the military to provide transport for GOP Members from the Rayburn House Office Building to the White House to meet with then-President George W. Bush. The GOP Members were meeting with Bush that day to discuss his showdown with Democrats over spending bills that would have mandated a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
A Putnam staffer told Roll Call the request for military travel was made in consultation with the office of the House Sergeant-at-Arms, which generally arranges official local travel for Members with the Capitol Police.
“Transportation arrangements with large numbers of Members of Congress are traditionally organized in coordination with the Sergeant at Arms Office — as was this trip,” Putnam’s spokesman said in an e-mail.
“For the trip referenced, there was a large number of Members traveling to the White House at the invitation of President Bush to discuss budget policy.
“For security, logistics, and cost this was the arrangement made. This is not unusual.”
A Democratic leadership aide said in an e-mail, “U.S. Capitol Police has the ability to transport Members 99% of the time. However, in the rare occasion that we need more room, Sergeant at Arms (with Speaker authorization since this does not pertain to a specific committee) would reach out to the military for additional buses.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in January 2009 requested military transportation for three Congressional delegations related to the inauguration of President Barack Obama: one on Jan. 18 from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial for the pre-inaugural concert, one on Jan. 20 from the Capitol to the “Parade Viewing Section,” and one the following day from the Capitol to the National Cathedral for a national prayer service.
Pelosi’s letter specifically requested an advance team and “ground transportation to facilitate this mission, as well as Air Force escort.”
The Democratic aide said inaugural events are extraordinary in scope and size, and “each event required more transportation assets than U.S. Capitol Police has available.” With military assets widely deployed throughout the inaugural events, it is relatively easy to use military transportation for those events.
Congressional sources said the White House also occasionally initiates a request to the Pentagon to provide transportation for Members of Congress to events that the White House is taking the lead on.
But this is an exception from normal local travel, a leadership aide said. “Keep in mind that asking for military assistance is very rare.”
For example, about 30 Members of Congress attended the funeral of civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height last week, but the group traveled in Capitol Police buses with no military assistance.
Pentagon officials did not respond to Roll Call’s request for comment on this story.