Sensenbrenner stuns Pelosi, White House defends her

A new split has emerged between House Republicans and President Bush in dealing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): House GOPers have chosen to keep her close; Bush has chosen to keep her closer.

Pelosi experienced the effect of the new strategy yesterday when Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) stunned her by using a procedural tactic to force her to answer questions from members of the Science Committee and White House spokesman Tony Snow defended her right to travel nonstop across the country aboard a military jet.

After Pelosi finished making an opening statement on global warming before the Science panel, Sensenbrenner employed House Rule XI, which allows lawmakers to question witnesses for five minutes.

The move flustered Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) and committee aides. Gordon asked for unanimous consent to waive the rules, but Sensenbrenner did not agree.

It is rare that the House Speaker, who does not vote on or sponsor legislation, would testify before a committee; it is rarer still that lawmakers would force one of their own to submit to questioning. Lawmakers testify in committees all the time, but their colleagues routinely dispense with all but the friendliest questions.

Pelosi delivered an opening statement at a hearing where scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) testified about a report issued last week that said humans “very likely” have caused global warming.

“It’s tough being in the minority, but the American people are looking for cooperation on this very serious issue and the Speaker showed today she’s willing to talk about the issue with anyone anywhere,” said a spokesman for Pelosi.

Sensenbrenner responded in a statement to Pelosi’s allegation that “for 12 years, the [GOP] leadership stifled all discussion and debate of global warming. The long rejection of reality is over, to the relief of members on both sides of the aisle.”

Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Science Committee from 1997 to 2001, said he held hearings on global warming. He then asked Pelosi to explain the economic impact of policies that would slow global warming.

“He’s a rules kind of guy and he felt he had a right to question her,” said Sensenbrenner’s spokesman, Raj Bharwani. Whether Sensenbrenner’s plan was premeditated or extemporaneous is unclear. Sensenbrenner rarely talks to reporters without an appointment.

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) asked Pelosi whether her views on the use of nuclear energy had changed since she arrived in Congress 20 years ago. Pelosi said she believed that all options to reduce global warming should be open for discussion.

Gordon then jumped in and asked Pelosi to talk about the proposed global-warming select committee.

“The hearing may have gotten off to a rocky start, but it ended up being one of Congress’s most productive hearings on climate change to date,” Gordon said.

Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) rescued Pelosi from further questioning. He noted that most lawmakers are extended the courtesy of not being subjected to questions and suggested that, in the interest of time and busy schedules, the panel should move forward.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) agreed and the questioning ceased.

It was an inauspicious start to a day when Sensenbrenner’s younger GOP colleagues subjected Pelosi to withering criticism over whether she should be allowed to use a military jet to fly to and from her San Francisco congressional district and Washington, D.C.

On the House floor, Republicans sought to attach an amendment to legislation promoting alternative-fuels research — the first debate under an open rule in three years — barring Pelosi from using the plane.

But their move backfired when White House spokesman Tony Snow defended the Speaker.

“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,” he told reporters yesterday. “It was certainly appropriate for Speaker Hastert. And so we trust that all sides will get this worked out.”

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), a Pelosi ally, said, “It’s a silly issue. These guys [Republicans] tend to forget they lost.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who was then the Speaker, began using a 12-seat Air Force jet to fly between D.C. and his district, close to Chicago.

The House sergeant at arms defended Pelosi, stating that it is his responsibility to ensure members’ safety and that he made the recommendation to use military aircraft with the ability to travel cross-country nonstop.

“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,” he said in a statement. “I regret that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue.”