The Speaker Shuttle service’s Friends & Family Program
posted at 1:47 pm on October 27, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
It’s good to be King — or in this case, Queen. CBS probes the use of taxpayer-funded charter jets by Nancy Pelosi and finds that the Speaker likes to travel in style — and that she’s not the only one. Call this the Family & Friends program, all on our dime:
Today, Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) regularly uses the military jets to travel to and from California, where she lives. Nine years after Sept. 11, her office says the service is still necessary for security reasons.
Yet security concerns were not cited by Assistant Defense Secretary Robert Wilkie when he discussed the shuttle service in 2007. The military shuttle support would be provided “as a courtesy in recognition of your position as Speaker of the House,” says a letter from Wilkie to Pelosi on Feb. 7, 2007.
It continues: “Since the plan for continuity of the Presidency does not include routine use of military airlift for the Speaker of the House, this support is provided without any specific basis to your standing as Presidential successor or position in the line of succession.”
Before 9/11, Speakers flew commercial, regardless of their destination. For a while after the terrorist attacks, it made sense to secure the continuity of succession, but that should have been a temporary policy. Denny Hastert didn’t relinquish the perk, however, and when Pelosi took the gavel, she continued the policy.
However, Pelosi has also vastly expanded it. Hastert took well-deserved grief for allowing another member of the House to use the charter to travel to an event where the lower-ranking Congressman (John Shimkus) was defending Hastert’s handling of the Mark Foley scandal. That one-off, criticized as it was, has now become a policy for Pelosi:
From her first month in office, even before the Feb. 7, 2007 policy guidance from the military, records indicate Pelosi began extending the perk of the Speaker Shuttle to Democratic colleagues. By March 15, 2007 Pelosi had invited members of Congress Mike Thompson, Barbara Lee (pictured), Anna Eshoo, George Miller, Ellen Tauscher and Jerry McNerney, all Democrats from California, to hitch rides with her on various Speaker Shuttle flights — some multiple times.
Records indicate Pelosi was the first to use routinely invite fellow members of Congress aboard the Speaker Shuttle. Yet the issue of whether the extra passengers would pay for the rides, and if so, how much; hadn’t been agreed upon. That was addressed in an email exchange between military officials and the Speaker’s Counsel in March of 2007.
Notice that the partisan affiliation of the guests is rather … consistent. Nor are they the only beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse in the skies. It seems anyone can hitch a ride — as long as they’re related to the Speaker of the House:
According to available records, Pelosi began inviting her family members aboard the Speaker Shuttle less than two months after she became Speaker. Like Hastert, she often takes her spouse (with no reimbursement required). She also extends the privilege to other family members. Listed among the passengers on a Feb. 22, 2007 flight from San Francisco to Washington D.C. are husband Paul Pelosi, daughter Christine and son Paul.
A little more than a month later, an internal military email exchange makes it clear that Pelosi’s family travel was not a one-time occurrence. Nor was it isolated to her husband and grown children.
“Speaker wants to put the following on her flight from SFO (San Francisco) to Andrews (Air Force Base),” says the April 2, 2007 email. “Daughter, son-in-law, infant grandson… Who authorizes the son-in-law and infant grandson?”
After some discussion, the military agreed to the extra passengers but noted, “Believe it is prudent policy for us to ask for reimbursement for all her travelling companions.” Available records do not show individual reimbursement rates. Pelosi’s office says her family members comply with all reimbursement rules, which require the equivalent of a commercial coach air fare.
The reimbursement rate for a military charter Gulfstream jet is … commercial coach? Sweet! I’m going to start redoing my genealogical chart to see if Madame Speaker and I have a common ancestor.
The taxpayers do not need to provide charter jets for the Speaker, and we certainly don’t need to fund family travel packages for our governing elites. Perhaps we need a new set of Representatives who will understand their role as public servants and not nobility, and a Republican majority that will ground Air Pelosi permanently.