House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is taking some heat because she wants a government plane to fly her between Washington and San Francisco and take some other members and staffers with her.
What exactly is the fuss about?
(from Sweet column in The Hill www.thehill.com)
Former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) used a government plane on a routine basis to fly himself and his two top staffers at the time, Scott Palmer, the chief of staff, and Mike Stokke, the deputy COS, from the capital to an airport near his home in Illinois. Hastert had a rather unusual management system: His key aides almost always traveled with him when he returned to the District. It was convenient, since Palmer and Stokke roomed with Hastert in Washington, sharing his townhouse.
When Hastert was under pressure because of the exploding Mark Foley page scandal last October, he ordered an airlift at government expense to fly a lawmaker to Washington for the sole purpose of getting him to a press conference to help bail Hastert out of the jam.
Pelosi’s tenure as Speaker is going to occur under a spotlight that was never aimed at Hastert. Pelosi’s team understands that. Hastert was never much of a target of the conservative cable talkers, and Pelosi is.
Still, it is interesting to note that Pelosi is getting smacked while Hastert’s use of military aircraft for himself and his two top staffers hardly ever got a mention or any scrutiny.
Why the pass? Perhaps it was an implicit recognition that national leaders faced certain security risks in the post-Sept. 11 world, and many who cover Congress well remember how in 1998 the deranged Russell Eugene Weston Jr. gunned down Capitol Police Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson.
But now that the conversation regarding a Speaker using military aircraft has begun, let me revive an episode I wrote about in my Chicago Sun-Times column last October.
On Sunday, Oct. 1, Hastert’s team was scrambling to contain the escalating fallout from the Foley page scandal.
That day, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), then the chairman of the page board, had gotten an urgent phone call from Stokke. The Hastert team wanted Shimkus to return to Washington immediately from his home in southern Illinois in order to appear at a press conference on Monday with the Speaker, and they did not want to deal with commercial flight schedules.
So at 8 p.m. that day, Shimkus arrived at the military side of the Scott Air Force Base near Belleville to board the Speaker’s jet that had been dispatched for him.
The plane then headed to an airport near Aurora, Ill., to pick up Hastert, who had been weekending at his home in Plano, before flying on to Washington.
That Monday, Hastert and Shimkus headlined a press conference in the Capitol to talk about the Foley resignation.
Pelosi doesn’t need any special treatment. But one-size planes do not fit all. And speaking of fit … I think covering Pelosi’s stunning wardrobe is fair game.
After all, I wrote about Hastert’s clothes when he became Speaker in 1999 — noting that he bought three new suits and a tuxedo at Irv’s Men’s Store in a Chicago suburb.
Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org