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It’s all over the Internet. President Donald Trump is on track to spend more American taxpayer dollars on personal travel in his first year than President Barack Obama spent in eight.
It’s a big claim, especially given President Trump’s repeated criticism of President Obama’s travel habits.
But is it true?
Presidents don’t fly commercial airliners or charter private jets when they want to take a vacation or campaign for a candidate.
For safety and security reasons, the president flies on a specially designed 747 that serves as Air Force One.
They also take a small village of staffers, Secret Service Agents, military advisors and experts to ensure the president can act quickly in a crisis.
That’s why Nancy Reagan once said, “Presidents don’t get vacations — they just get a change of scenery.”
The rules require presidents to pay taxpayers back for a portion of their family’s travel and lodging, but taxpayers get stuck footing the bills for the president’s staff and security. And those bills account for the vast majority of a president’s travel costs.
Judicial Watch, a conservative group that regularly requested travel expenses from the Obama administration, puts the former president’s eight-year total for travel at nearly $97 million. That’s about $12 million per year.
Judicial Watch has filed hundreds of Freedom of Information requests to get the numbers from various agencies that pay for presidential travel, so it’s the best estimate we’ve got as to what Obama spent.
It’s not perfect though. Judicial Watch doesn’t include the money Obama reimbursed the government for his travel expenses, and it couldn’t get ancillary expenses like the salaries and benefits of civilian personnel.
The cost for Trump’s February travel, however, are estimates by news outlets. That’s because the administration hasn’t released any numbers yet.
These estimates hover around $10 million.
Here’s our analysis of those projections.
AIR FORCE ONE:
Flying the president’s plane cost slightly more than $180,000 per hour in 2016, according to Judicial Watch.
That’s actually about $26,000 cheaper than what it cost in 2015 and nearly $40,000 cheaper than 2013.
It’s possible the price tag for one hour of flight has dropped again, but it’s not unreasonable to use the most recent number.
That would mean each of Trump’s four-hour round trips from Washington D.C. to Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers $720,000.
The president’s taken three trips to his “Winter White House” bringing the total to $2.16 million.
COST TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS:
Counties and cities pay emergency personnel overtime when the president comes to visit.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has said on record that it pays about $60,000 a day in overtime to its deputies when Trump visits Mar-a-Lago, according to the Palm Beach Post.
West Palm Beach city police and fire told the Post they have paid about $26,000 extra in payroll for all three of Trump’s February trips.
COAST GUARD AND SECRET SERVICE:
Mar-a-Lago is a beach front resort. That means the waters around the resort need to be secured when the president is there.
It’s also an exclusive club and golf course with people coming and going – and every one of them has to be checked by Secret Service.
There are no numbers yet for what this costs. The $800,000 price tag floating around comes from a similar weekend trip Obama took in 2013 to south Florida.
If that number is in the ballpark, it would mean taxpayers spent $2.4 million to keep the president safe at Mar-a-Lago this month.
But that number could be wrong. The towns are different, the coastlines are different and what it cost four years ago may not be what it costs today.
In addition to the village of military personnel who travel with the president, there’s also additional aircraft.
The total costs for the Mar-a-Lago trips aren’t known, so the estimates rely again on Obama’s 2013 trip.
On that trip the Pentagon spent $2.8 million to fly Air Force One as well as other support aircraft and pay its personnel.
If you subtract the 2013 flight costs for Air Force One, you get $1.89 million. Multiply that number by three trips, and you have a total of $5.67 million.
The caveat again is this assumes that the 2013 trip is an apples to apples comparison.
The big question is how much President Trump will have to repay taxpayers for these trips.
The answer depends on how his visits to Mar-a-Lago are categorized.
So far, the White House says Trump’s visits to his Winter White House were working trips. He hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe one weekend and interviewed candidates for National Security Advisor the next.
That would mean Trump wouldn’t have to pay, and the cost of the trips wouldn’t be counted in his travel total.
Critics point out that Trump could have done both of these things from the White House or Camp David and not burdened taxpayers with additional costs.
If Trump’s three trips to Mar-a-Lago did take $10.6 million out of local and federal tax coffers, that’s nearly as much as Obama spent on personal travel per year.
It would also put him on track to outpace Obama’s eight year total by the end of 2017.
But that assumes Trump maintains a schedule of weekend trips to his Winter White House. That’s unlikely given the fact that he’ll likely host state dinners and travel outside the country on official business at some point this year.
It also assumes the entire cost of each trip is counted as personal travel, which may prove inaccurate because of his trip with Abe.
Obama’s 2016 trip with Prime Minister Abe to Pearl Harbor wasn’t billed as personal travel.
It’s always an expensive proposition for the U.S. president to travel and it’s too early to tell what travel costs during the Trump administration will look like.
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