No evidence of military travel
As members of Congress head home for the holidays -- or not, depending on the state of negotiations over the fiscal cliff -- we decided to revisit House Speaker John Boehner's pledge to take commercial flights back and forth to his Ohio district, rather than a military jet.
Boehner has been in Congress since 1991, and when he ascended to the top leadership post in 2010, he vowed to continue the practice he's maintained since elected. "Over the last 20 years, I have flown back and forth to my district on commercial aircraft, and I'm going to continue to do that,” he said.
That was a departure from the practice of his predecessor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was criticized for using military jets to fly home to California.
When we checked on this pledge in March 2012, we noted media reports detailing Boehner's trips through airports, and his reiteration of the pledge after the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011.
But we were short on records, and still are. We have asked Boehner's office repeatedly for records of his commercial flights and have been turned down.
"As we've discussed before, you have no evidence to indicate he is not keeping his word,” his spokesman, Michael Steel, told PolitiFact in an email in November.
True enough. But we expect public officials to provide evidence they are keeping their word. In the absence of that, we made a Freedom of Information Act request for any records of Boehner taking military flights.
The Air National Guard FOIA Requestor Service Center replied that "they did not find any military aircraft requests for travel during that time period.”
The letter said that the office also contacted the Air Force District of Washington, Air Mobility Command, Special Air Missions and Headquarters Air Force, all of which also found no flights involving Boehner between Washington and Ohio. The searches extended back one year, which is how long records are required to be retained.
So, it's clear Boehner is not using military jets. We'd still like to hear from any readers who encounter him on a commercial flight -- snap a picture and send it to us! -- but we're satisfied enough to rate this a Promise Kept.
Email interview with Michael Steel, Boehner spokesman, Nov. 27, 2012
Freedom of Information Act response, National Guard Bureau, Aug. 14, 2012
News accounts indicate he flies commercial
Before he took over as speaker, Boehner said he would take commercial flights back and forth from his Cincinnati-area district to Washington rather than use the military jet available to him.
"Over the last 20 years, I have flown back and forth to my district on commercial aircraft, and I am going to continue to do that,” he told reporters, according to POLITICO.
Many news outlets wrote about his pledge, contrasting it with his predecessor Nancy Pelosi's use of the jet. The New York Times followed Boehner through Reagan National Airport on one of his first flights, noting how he was able to bypass security lines.
In January 2011, in the wake of the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Boehner's office said he would continue to fly commercial despite any new security concerns.
His spokesman, Michael Steel, told The Hill that Boehner had no intention of reconsidering a decision he previously made to forgo the use of a private jet for transportation to and from his Ohio district.
When we contacted Steel about this pledge, he said Boehner still flies commercial, and the only time he has flown on a military jet was for an overseas congressional delegation.
We also consulted the House statement of disbursement for members of Congress. That reflected a lump sum for travel expenses for Boehner's office of about $66,000 for 2011, the most recent available. But that figure includes such expenses as taxis, parking and mileage reimbursement for all staffers in the speaker's office and does not detail commercial flights taken by Boehner himself.
We will continue to seek more concrete records of Boehner's travels and follow this pledge. If readers see him flying commercial -- or on a military jet -- please let us know. For now, the evidence is enough to move the needle to In the Works.
Statement of Disbursements of the House, Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 (see page 329)
Congressional Research Service, "Congressional Salaries and Allowances,” Jan. 4, 2012
New York Times, "Incoming Speaker Takes Commercial Flight, but Skips the Pat-Down,” Nov. 19, 2010
The Hill, "Boehner will keep flying commercial,” Jan. 10, 2011
Cincinnati Enquirer, "Boehner: I'll still fly commercial,” Jan. 12, 2011
Politico, "John Boehner to fly commercial as speaker,” Nov. 10, 2010