During a conversation about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) having access to military aircraft to fly between Washington, D.C., and her home district, Republican pollster Frank Luntz stated on the February 7 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes that “it is not a security issue. [Pelosi] doesn't need a plane.” In fact, the website Think Progress noted that Wilson Livingood, the House sergeant at arms, released a statement on February 5, in which he stated that "[i]n December 2006, I advised Speaker Pelosi that the US Air Force had made an airplane available to [former] Speaker [J. Dennis] Hastert [R-IL] for security and communications purposes following September 11, 2001." In a subsequent statement released February 8, Livingood added that he “request[ed] an aircraft” for Pelosi “capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable.”
Further, during a February 7 White House press briefing, in answer to the question “Does the President think it's a good idea that Speaker Pelosi have a large government military jet available to her to [fly] back and forth to California?” White House press secretary Tony Snow stated:
MR. SNOW: After September 11th, the Department of Defense -- with the consent of the White House -- agreed that the Speaker of the House should have military transport. And so what is going on is that the Department of Defense is going through its rules and regulations and having conversations with the Speaker about it. So Speaker Hastert had access to military aircraft and Speaker Pelosi will, too.
During the February 8 press briefing, Snow stated that the White House's position is that Pelosi “is entitled to military transport” and that "[i]t is important for the Speaker to have this kind of protection and travel":
MR. SNOW: [A]s Speaker of the House, she is entitled to military transport, and that the arrangements, the proper arrangements are being made between the Sergeant of Arms office in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Defense. We think it's appropriate, and so, again, I think this is much ado about not a whole lot. It is important for the Speaker to have this kind of protection and travel. It was certainly appropriate for Speaker Hastert. So we trust that all sides will get this worked out.
From Livingood's February 8 statement:
As the Sergeant at Arms, I have the responsibility to ensure the security of the members of the House of Representatives, to include the Speaker of the House. The Speaker requires additional precautions due to her responsibilities as the leader of the House and her Constitutional position as second in the line of succession to the presidency.
In a post 9/11 threat environment, it is reasonable and prudent to provide military aircraft to the Speaker for official travel between Washington and her district. The practice began with Speaker Hastert and I have recommended that it continue with Speaker Pelosi. The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable. This will ensure communications capabilities and also enhance security. I made the recommendation to use military aircraft based upon the need to provide necessary levels of security for ranking national leaders, such as the Speaker. I regret that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue.
As Media Matters for America noted, on the October 31, 2006, edition of Hannity & Colmes, Luntz smeared Pelosi, saying, “I always use the line for Nancy Pelosi, 'You get one shot at a facelift. If it doesn't work the first time, let it go.' ” Co-host Alan Colmes replied: “That's a cheap shot,” to which U.S. News & World Report senior writer and Fox News contributor Michael Barone responded, “I agree with Alan -- it's a cheap shot.”
From the February 7 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
LUNTZ: And let me tell you, Sean, this situation with Nancy Pelosi and the aircraft -- that's going to play very badly for the Democrats, and I think that's going to reflect badly on Hillary Clinton who, at this point, is the front-runner.
COLMES: Frank, you took a shot at Nancy Pelosi. The fact of the matter is: She did not initiate this. It came from the sergeant of arms. Conservatives are making a bigger deal of this than really exists. And we got very little press when there was a Denny Hastert issue when he asked for the same thing. So, you say it's going to resonate and be -- and hurt the front-runner for the Democrats. I disagree. I -- where are you getting this information?
LUNTZ: Well -- no, here's the issue. The public said “no” to the Republican Party in 2006 because they thought that they'd gone native -- that they'd gone Washington -- that there wasn't a sense of accountability. But they will say the same “no” to the Democrats if they seem to be -- abuse their power. And she doesn't need a huge, gigantic plane.
COLMES: She didn't ask for one. She just wants a nonstop --
LUNTZ: If she wants to deny everybody else from flying -- you know what?
COLMES: -- doesn't want to have to refuel. It's a security issue whether or not she should stop to refuel.
LUNTZ: She does -- it is not a -- it is not a security issue. She doesn't need a plane, and American taxpayers -- I can promise you, Alan -- the American taxpayers don't want to be paying for her private flights in huge jets.
COLMES: But it's not her decision, it's the sergeant at arms. She doesn't make that decision, Frank.
SEAN HANNITY (co-host): All right, we gotta run.
LUNTZ: She can say no. She can say no.
MICHAEL BROWN (Democratic strategist): The American taxpayers do not want to pay for a war they don't agree with --
HANNITY: She was offered the plane.
LUNTZ: Just say no, Alan.
HANNITY: She -- he's asking for the bigger plane. She, herself is asking --
COLMES: She didn't make that decision.
HANNITY: -- and it would be $300,000 round trip for the American taxpayer.
COLMES: It was not her decision.
HANNITY: This is a bad political play, Frank. Frank, I agree with you.
BROWN: How do you justify that we're paying for the war and all the dollars we're paying for them when the American people don't want that to happen, either?