WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the Bush administration on Wednesday of publicly mischaracterizing her need for a larger military aircraft to travel back and forth from the West coast.
She said reports filtering out into the media regarding inquiries about the use of a military plane nearly the size of Air Force One for her travel to and from Washington, D.C., shows a "misrepresentation that could only be coming from the administration ... one would wonder why the practice deemed to be necessary from a security standpoint would be mischaracterized in the press."
The speaker, however, specifically omitted President Bush from her complaints. "I know that it's not coming from the president because he impressed upon me the amount of security I need to have."
House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, who is responsible for the speaker's security, advised Pelosi in December that the Air Force had made an airplane available to her predecessor, Dennis Hastert, "for security and communications purposes following September 11, 2001."
He suggested Pelosi, who is second in the line of presidential succession, inquire about the use of a military plane. According to sources involved in the talks with Pentagon officials and Livingood, Pelosi needs a large enough aircraft to fly directly from Washington, D.C., to her home in San Francisco since stopping along the way to refuel poses unnecessary security risks.
But when Pelosi requested clarification from the Department of Defense about plane size and whether she can have friends and colleagues catch rides on the military aircraft, criticism mounted that the speaker talks a good game on ethics, but is not walking the walk against the "culture of corruption" she so frequently criticized while in the minority last Congress.
"This is not about having secure communications and secure aircraft available to her. It's about an arrogance of extravagance that demands a jumbo jet that costs $22,000 an hour to operate to taxi her and her buddies back and forth to California," Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam of Florida told FOX News.
Pelosi said Wednesday her inquiry about taking members of Congress and others along for the ride had "nothing to do with family and friends and everything to do with security."
Pelosi is still awaiting a response from the military, and congressional sources told The Washington Times that Pelosi ally, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., believes the delay is because of sexism on the part of the military. Murtha's office denied that claim.
Speaking with reporters, Pelosi lamented the need for a military plane, bemoaning the fact that "when you become speaker ... you give up movement" because of security concerns.