Pelosi Seeks Upgrade for Government-Provided Plane

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., today responded to Republican critics who have accused her of making unreasonable demands on the Pentagon for a luxurious airplane her Republican predecessor never requested.

Pelosi charged that the Pentagon is treating her request for a military plane differently than that of her predecessor because she is a woman.

The Speaker told gathered reporters, "As a woman, as a woman speaker of the House, I don't want any less of an opportunity than male speakers when they have served here," implying a sexist undertone to the recent criticism.

"This is something that's very strange that the Department of Defense and the Pentagon, which I have been a constant critic of the war in Iraq...has decided that they will go public about a conversation on an issue that applied to the other Speaker," Pelosi continued, refering to former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

"I want an aircraft that will reach California," Pelosi told reporters Wednesday afternoon, insisting that she doesn't care what kind of plane it is as long as it can fly nonstop to her home district.

But by Thursday, Pelosi's tune had changed, telling reporters, "If they can have a plane that can go cross country then I'll take that plane. If they don't, I will go commercial."

Pelosi claimed on Wednesday that news reports suggesting that she seeks a lavish jet suggest 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. I know that it's not coming from the president, because he impressed upon me the amount of security I need to have."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the speaker of the House of Representatives -- second in the line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president -- has received what the Air Force refers to as "shuttle service," the use of military planes to travel for security reasons. Pelosi's predecessor, Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., used a C-20, the military version of the Gulf Stream 3 business jet, a twin-engine turbo-fan aircraft that seats 12 passengers with a crew of five.

But while the C-20 could fly to Hastert's Aurora, Ill., district, which is slightly more than 700 miles from Washington, D.C., without stopping to refuel, Pelosi's home district is in San Francisco, more than 2,800 miles from the nation's capital, and the C-20 generally would need to stop and refuel to make it all the way to the Bay Area. So Pelosi requested a plane that could make it to California without having to stop along the way, and asked for clarification from the Pentagon about whether friends and colleagues could accompany her.

Various Republican officials in recent days have claimed that Pelosi has requested a C-32 plane for her travels -- a luxurious and specially configured version of the Boeing 757-200 commercial intercontinental airliner. The plane seats 45 passengers with business-class accommodations and a crew of up to 16, depending on the mission. It features a communications center, a fully enclosed stateroom for the primary passenger, a changing area, a conference facility, an entertainment system, and a convertible divan that seats three and folds out to a bed. The C-32 can cost as much as $22,000 an hour to operate. It's normally used by the first lady, the vice president, Cabinet officials and members of Congress upon request.

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