WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump canceled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's planned trip to Belgium and Afghanistan just hours before the congressional delegation, known as a CODEL, was set to depart.
Can he do that?
Yes, and not just because he's the commander in chief. The military maintains a fleet of converted passenger jets used by the president, vice president, Cabinet officials and other officials, from the iconic modified Boeing 747s known as Air Force One when the president is on board to smaller, modified Gulfstream jets. They're based at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington. The assignment of the jets is at the discretion of the White House Military Office and, ultimately, the president.
How is this supposed to work?
There are a limited number of planes available for travel and a large number of potential travelers. The assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs signs off on CODEL requests for military flights. The office of the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force, Special Air Missions Division, is responsible for matching the request with the appropriate aircraft, prioritizing those from the White House, the defense secretary's office and others.
Has this happened before?
If no aircraft are available, lawmakers can be accommodated on a cargo aircraft if available or declined travel on a military aircraft altogether. In such cases, the trip may be canceled or carried out on commercial planes. It is not uncommon for there to be jockeying and lobbying of the White House among members of Congress and even Cabinet secretaries to secure the best aircraft. What is extraordinarily rare is for the president to personally intervene, and to announce in writing that he was denying an official a plane for nonoperational reasons, especially after it normally cleared channels.
Can Pelosi do anything about it?
Not really. She could try to secure other commercial or private air travel to make the trip, but a stop in a war zone by the second person in the presidential line of succession is traditionally carried out in secret — likely taking a stop in Afghanistan off the table.