Trump on track to spend exorbitant amount of taxpayer dollars on travels
By one estimate the president has already rung up as much in travel costs as the Obama and Biden families did in eight years – all at the expense of taxpayers
Nothing used to rile devoted Barack Obama critics like the president’s winter Hawaiian vacation. A watchdog group once calculated that the Aloha state trips cost taxpayers $3.5m a pop – in airfare, security arrangements, communications and medical staff.
Among the harshest critics of Obama’s travel was Donald Trump, then a private citizen. “President Obama’s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars----Unbelievable!” Trump tweeted in 2012. Two years later, Trump tweeted that “Obama’s motto” was: “If I don’t go on taxpayer funded vacations & constantly fundraise then the terrorists win.”
The joke, it turns out, is on Trump. Now he is the president – and it appears that he is on track to spend many more millions of taxpayer dollars on trips that might be construed as vacations for him and his family than Obama ever dreamed of. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward.
By one sketchy estimate, Trump and his family, in their security and travel demands, have already rung up as much in accounts payable by taxpayers as the Obama and Biden families did in eight years, a figure elsewhere calculated, by the Washington DC-based Judicial Watch, as topping $97m.
How is it possible? The complicated receipt involves weekend trips by Trump to Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach, Florida; travel by his children and their government security details on Trump family business; and costs associated with protecting Trump’s Manhattan home, the high-rise Trump Tower building, where Trump’s wife and youngest child live but where the real estate mogul himself has not set foot since becoming president.
Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna college in California, said it appeared that Trump Tower was turning out to be a particularly burdensome expense, compared with costs tied to George W Bush’s Texas ranch or Obama family vacations to Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.
“When President Bush went to the ranch, it was not surrounded by an enormous city – that didn’t involve the same kind of security challenges,” Pitney said. “When President Obama went to Martha’s Vineyard, again fairly isolated, not the same kind of challenges as a highly visible location in the middle of a very crowded city.”
“This also relates to his failure to disclose his taxes,” Pitney said. “He’s the first president in 40 years who hasn’t publicly disclosed his taxes, and many people suspect that he’s employed various legal maneuvers to avoid paying taxes. If that is true, he’s imposing costs on other taxpayers that he’s not bearing himself.”
According to a $37.4m reimbursement claim filed with Congress at the time of the inauguration, New York City spends $500,000 a day protecting Trump tower, mostly in police overtime costs. A trip by Eric Trump in January to visit a condominium development in Uruguay produced a hotel bill of $97,830 for secret service and staff, the Washington Post revealed. Other expensive overseas trips the scion has taken on family business so far this year include visits to the Dominican Republic (polo grounds, hotel, golf course); Dubai (golf course); and Vancouver (hotel).
The costs associated with travel by presidents and family members are sketchy because the key agencies involved – the defense department, which manages the president’s air fleet, and the Department of Homeland Security, which provides for secret service protection – don’t readily release line-item budgets for presidential travel. Certain presumably expensive arrangements are classified. Each trip is different, as each president travels differently, making comparison difficult.
Judging the cost of Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago as president so far – he is there for a fourth time this weekend – relies, however, on a comparison to a trip Obama made to the Sunshine state in 2013. The four-day trip, during which Obama found time to golf with Tiger Woods, drew controversy after a Republican senator demanded that the government accountability office calculate how much it had cost taxpayers. The result: more than $3.6m.
If each of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips costs that much, taxpayers are on the hook so far for more than $14m to send the president to Florida.
Asked whether Trump was outstripping Obama in terms of sticking taxpayers, Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, questioned the accounting of Trump’s Florida trips, which he said were likely less expensive than Obama’s 2013 trip because Trump does not rely for in-state travel on Marine One, the presidential helicopter, as Obama had.
Fitton also said that according to the best available information, Air Force One, the president’s jet, currently costs $142,000 an hour to operate – as much as 25% less than it cost to operate during the Obama years.
“The per-trip cost is a little bit less since the cost-per-hour of Air Force One are less,” Fitton said, comparing Trump and Obama. “Now, if [Trump] travels more – it will depend in the long run on the number of trips he takes, and for what purposes. And to his credit, it’s readily apparent – and he’s criticized for it – when he’s in Mar-a-Lago, he’s doing business.