GOP bristles at Pelosi desire for Air Force transport plane

Wednesday, February 7th 2007, 9:38 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans on Wednesday assailed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's request for access to an Air Force transport plane as an extravagance, though former Speaker Dennis Hastert flew in a military jet as well.

Republicans are taking issue with the size of the plane Pelosi has requested. Pelosi had asked for access to a C-32 plane, a military version of the Boeing 757-200.

A Defense Department spokesman said Wednesday that the Pentagon informed Pelosi's staff that she would be provided with a plane but that its size would be based on availability.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Pentagon agreed to provide the House speaker, who is second in the line of presidential succession, with a military plane for added security during trips back home.

Hastert, an Illinois Republican, flew in a small commuter-sized jet. Pelosi and her aides say that because her congressional district is in California, her security would require a larger plane that can fly coast to coast without refueling.

``It's not a question of size, it's a question of distance,'' Pelosi said Wednesday. ``We want an aircraft that can reach California.''

Navy Cmdr. Jefrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday that Pelosi would be offered ``shuttle service for no more than 10 passengers between Washington and San Francisco only based on aircraft availability.''

``This does not guarantee nonstop transport,'' Gordon said.

Rep. Adam Putnam of Florida, the No. 3 Republican leader, said he supported the tradition of House speakers having access to secure airplanes with secure communications in the post-9/11 era, because of their spot in the presidential line of succession.

But he called Pelosi's desire for a large transport ``an extravagance of power that the taxpayers won't swallow.''

Some Republicans have argued that Pelosi could use the larger plane to offer trips to top political donors as a reward for their contributions. The guidelines provided by the Pentagon say Pelosi could be accompanied by family members, provided they pay the government coach fare. The plane could not be used for travel to political events.

``It's important we see what the specific request was,'' Putnam said.

Asked about the flap, White House spokesman Tony Snow on Wednesday noted that after the 2001 suicide hijackings the Pentagon, with White House consent, agreed to provide military transport to the speaker of the House.

``What is going on is that the Department of Defense is going through its rules and regulations and having conversations with the speaker about it,'' he said. ``So Speaker Hastert had access to military aircraft and Speaker Pelosi will, too.''