Pelosi defends request for jet

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“And I’ll just repeat our position, which is as speaker of the House, she is entitled to military transport and that the the proper arrangements are being made between the sergeant of arms office in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Defense. We think it’s appropriate, and so I — again, I think this is much ado about not a whole lot. It is important for the speaker to have this kind of protection and travel. It was certainly appropriate for Speaker Hastert. And so we trust that all sides will get this worked out.”

Republicans did not see it that way.

Members quickly drafted an amendment to an environmental bill on the House floor, forcing Democrats to debate Mrs. Pelosi and military planes for two hours.

“The Congress also finds that in order to lessen United States dependence on foreign sources of petroleum, and decrease demand for petroleum in aircraft, such as passenger planes with 42 business-class seats capable of transcontinental flights, the nation must diversify its fuel supply for aircraft to include domestically produced alternative fuels,” says the amendment, a clear reference to the large jet requested by Mrs. Pelosi’s office.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that the Defense Department sent a letter to Mrs. Pelosi that limits her choice of aircraft to commuter-sized planes that would have to be refueled. The letter said the Pentagon could not guarantee access to larger jets, and it stated rules for carrying family members and lawmakers.

The 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force base operates three jets that can make the nonstop flight year-round: the C-32 (Boeing 757); a C-40 (Boeing 737) and the C-20, a Gulfstream jet.

Mr. Murtha is playing hardball.

“I don’t need to pressure them,” he told reporters, when asked about his calls to the Pentagon. “I just tell them what they need to do.”

Mr. Murtha warned the Pentagon against leaking information that makes Mrs. Pelosi look bad.

“They’re making a mistake when they leak it because she decides on allocations for them,” he said, referring to the Pentagon budget.

Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, responded:

“It is irresponsible and reckless for Congressman Murtha to use funding needed for the protection of our country and for our men and women in uniform as leverage in order for Nancy Pelosi to travel from coast to coast like a movie star. We are a country at war, and I think it is time for the Democrat majority to get their priorities straight.”

In a statement yesterday, House Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood assumed responsibility for the decision to request a larger plane for Mrs. Pelosi.

“The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making nonstop flights for security reasons, unless such an aircraft is unavailable,” he said. “Such an aircraft will ensure communications capabilities and also enhance security.”

He also said he regrets “that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue.”

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