Congressional leaders never seem to learn that PR flaps happen because of appearances and that arguments based on process often fall on deaf public ears. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell made his party look obstructionist the other day when he had his ranks vote to effectively stall debate over a US troop increase in Iraq. Now Speaker Nancy Pelosi is struggling to get ahead of the fiasco over what size plane the military will supply for her to travel to and from San Francisco.
Republicans were quick to seize upon the request for a larger plane than former Speaker Dennis Hastert used, charging without basis that she wanted to fly her supporters around and host parties on board, casting it as a sign of Democratic arrogance. Pelosi's office was slow to note that they themselves had not actually requested the larger plane, but that the House Sergeant-at-Arms, a Republican appointee and former Secret Service agent, had recommended it. Bill Livingood issued a statement yesterday afternoon affirming that he had requested for Pelosi "an aircraft that is capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable."
In a move that looks a bit like retaliation, Rep. John Murtha (D) announced that his defense appropriations subcommittee would start looking into the use of military planes by the executive branch and other members of Congress.
The San Francisco Chronicle says Washington "saw an unusual tag team in action" yesterday when White House press secretary Tony Snow supported Pelosi in the flap over her plane, calling it a "silly story."
The Los Angeles Times: "On Thursday, Pelosi's office struggled to put to rest a matter that had ballooned into headline news, while GOP opponents gleefully maneuvered to squeeze out another day of portraying her as an entitled Presidio princess."
The New York Times writes that the dispute "illustrates that politicians are acutely aware that a jet-setting image can be dangerous, particularly given the travails of modern travel for average Americans. President Bill Clinton spent a long time living down the tale of his haircut on Air Force One as flights were delayed at Los Angeles International Airport… The image of Newt Gingrich complaining about his forced rear-exit departure from Air Force One earned him a reputation as a petulant pol. And John H. Sununu, a former White House chief of staff, was ridiculed for using government jets to visit the dentist and the ski slopes."