Trump's Mar-a-Lago getaway could cost taxpayers more than $3 million
The president regularly hassled Obama for his travel. Now Trump is about to get a taste of his own medicine.
President Donald Trump's trip to his luxury resort in Mar-a-Lago this weekend could saddle taxpayers with a bill upward of $3 million and is already drawing the type of scrutiny Trump and other Republicans regularly heaped upon former President Barack Obama.
The Florida trip is Trump's first getaway as president and is expected to be part business, part pleasure. He will reunite with his wife, Melania, who has been living in Trump Tower in Manhattan as their 10-year-old son Barron finishes the school year, and there are rumors he will attend the American Red Cross' annual fundraising gala, which is being held at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night. In between the socializing, Trump will have several meetings and phone calls as he maintains his aggressive work schedule.
Story Continued Below
The trip, which is scheduled to last from Friday night to Monday morning, also likely comes with a hefty price tag.
The closest approximation of the cost comes from a report the Government Accountability Office prepared in 2016 about one of Obama's trips in 2013 at the request of Republican Sen. John Barrasso. The trip was actually quite similar to the one that Trump is about to take. It occurred in February 2013 over the course of four days. Obama flew from Joint Base Andrews to Chicago on Feb. 15 to deliver a speech on the economy and the middle class, then flew from there to Palm Beach, Florida. He returned on Feb. 18. But for the Chicago detour, Trump's trip is almost identical.
The cost of the 2013 trip for the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, was $3.6 million, the GAO found.
Trump's multimillion-dollar trip, which comes just two weeks into his presidency, shows that Trump is not shy about engaging in the same type of jet-setting that he and other Republicans heavily criticized Obama for throughout his presidency.
"The habitual vacationer, @BarackObama, is now in Hawaii. This vacation is costing taxpayers $4 milion +++ while there is 20% unemployment," Trump wrote on Twitter in December 2011 (when the unemployment rate was actually 8.5 percent).
"President @BarackObama's vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars——Unbelievable!" Trump opined again on Twitter a few days later.
That July, he took aim at the first lady: "With 15% US real unemployment and a 16T debt, @Michelle Obama's luxurious Aspen vacation - her 16th - cost us over $1M." (The unemployment rate at the time was actually 8.2 percent.)
But now, as Trump is setting off on his own working vacation to his "winter White House," he is getting a taste of his own medicine.
Judicial Watch, the conservative nonprofit that tracked Obama's travel, told POLITICO that it plans to file a Freedom of Information Act request on Monday for a full accounting of Trump's travel costs for the weekend getaway.
"I hope he reflects on the costs of doing that and sees if there's any savings to be achieved," said Tom Fitton, president of the group. "He should check out Camp David and see if he can make better use of that."
He added there are "real costs of going back and forth," as Trump has said he plans to do regularly throughout his presidency.
But the choice to stay at Mar-a-Lago, which Trump owns, does carry some cost advantages.
"Presidents pay for their own and their families' lodging, food and incidentals while on vacation, which may be why they generally prefer to stay at properties they own, as guests of wealthy friends or at the official presidential retreat at Camp David," wrote Scott Farris, author of a book about John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, in the Washington Post in 2014.
Trump's love for staying at his own properties gives him many options around the world.
Despite the discount, taxpayers will still likely bear the brunt of the travel costs. And one of the only reasons an approximate price tag can be slapped on Trump's trip ahead of time is because Judicial Watch and other conservatives have been so dogged in recent years about pricing out Obama's travel.
The cost of flying Air Force One is more than $200,000 per flying hour, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch in 2015. When the trip is for official business, all of the costs are borne by the government. If the trip is political in nature, however, those traveling reimburse the government "the equivalent of the airfare that they would have paid had they used a commercial airline," according to the Congressional Research Service.
After the release of the GAO report he requested, Barraso said Obama had "little regard for the taxpayer" and that the trip displayed "arrogance." Barrasso's office did not respond to a request for comment about Trump's upcoming trip.
But sniping about presidential getaways is a bipartisan tradition, and one with a history far before George W. Bush's trips to his Texas ranch or Obama's Hawaii golf outings.
"The tradition goes all the way back to John Adams," said Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the Naval Academy and an expert on presidential travel. The second president was criticized for spending too much time away in Massachusetts — criticism that carried more validity before the age of air travel, telephones and the internet.
Such criticism is mostly an "inside-the-Beltway phenomenon," Doherty said, and likely doesn't resonate with most voters. The caveat is if the president appears out of touch in the face of a crisis or natural disaster. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time — say, in Texas during Hurricane Katrina as Bush was — can be "really politically damaging," Doherty said.
But there's also an upside to taking periodic breaks from the West Wing.
"If it helps a president to clear his head to get fresh air, to play golf, to clear brush, hopefully that would help a president make better decisions that would benefit all of us," Doherty said.
And just because Trump will be away from the White House doesn't mean he'll be away from the job.
Doherty cited a quote regularly attributed to Nancy Reagan: "Presidents don't get vacations, they just get a change of scenery."
If Trump hopes to make Mar-a-Lago stays a regular feature of his time in office, he may be heartened by the vacation schedule of Reagan. All told, the conservative icon spent about a year of his presidency at his ranch in California.
He might find even more to like in the latest Republican to hold the office. Bush spent more than 530 days at either his ranch in Texas or the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, according to records kept by Mark Knoller of CBS News.
Obama's vacations, meanwhile, spanned more than 230 days, according to Knoller.