WASHINGTON – The Pentagon at first blocked Rep. Tammy Baldwin's domestic partner from traveling on a military plane with a congressional delegation on a trip to Europe but gave in after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intervened.
The Pentagon said it was merely following House rules, which do not define domestic partners as spouses. Pelosi's office countered that the Pentagon has its own rules about who can go on its planes.
Both sides agree that Defense Secretary Robert Gates reversed the decision to keep Azar off the plane after getting contacted by Pelosi, D-Calif.
"It's a matter of fairness that spouses should be allowed to go, and she is Ms. Baldwin's spouse," said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. He said that Baldwin had raised the exclusion with a colleague, who mentioned it to Pelosi. The lawmakers visited France, the Czech Republic and Poland last month.
Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat and openly gay House member, declined to talk about the incident, which was first reported by the political newspaper Politico. Azar, a Madison energy law attorney who serves on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
The Pentagon still has in place its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bars gays from serving openly in the military. But that had nothing to do with this case, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
"This is strictly about following our statutory guidelines and the House rules," he said.
Morrell said that Pelosi asked Gates to honor her decision to waive House rules to allow Azar to travel and that Gates asked her to put that request in writing.
"She did so, and he — in this one case only — agreed to it," Morrell said. "This is not a precedent by any means. This does not open the doors for life partners to travel on congressional delegations." But Gates has agreed to review future requests on a case-by-case basis, Morrell said.
Daly said that both the Pentagon and Pelosi had to issue waivers.
In her letter to Gates last month, Pelosi wrote that she was using "the waiver authority inherent in the speaker's travel policies to authorize the travel of Ms. Lauren Azar to accompany Representative Tammy Baldwin on a congressional delegation scheduled for the March congressional work period. I request that you in turn use your waiver authority to facilitate Ms. Azar's participation in the delegation."
The six-person trip was led by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee's energy and air quality subcommittee.