Ordinary folks can fly from the Washington, D.C., area to southeast Florida for $200-300 round-trip, if they book in advance. For the president, the trip is a little more costly.
Exactly how much is not currently public, though. The conservative group Judicial Watch, which has been tracking the cost of presidential travel for several years, estimates that President Trump’s frequent visits to his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago probably cost the government around $1 million each.
Much of the expense stems from Air Force One 747, which costs around $140,000 per flying hour right now, says Judicial Watch’s president, Tom Fitton. The trips typically incur other expenses as well, such as lodging and travel expenses for the Secret Service, and reimbursements for local police.
“It’s a snapshot cost, in the sense that there are other costs obviously involved that we could get, but the government just doesn’t want to give it to us or they keep secret for some reason,” Fitton says.
The Government Accountability Office has agreed to look into the costs and security concerns raised by Democratic lawmakers about the Florida trips.
Trump has so far appeared to set a record for weekend travel, regularly shuttling back and forth between Washington and his properties in New York, New Jersey and Florida.
“For someone who complained about President Obama traveling a lot, he’s going to supersede President Obama’s travel, all eight years [of it], within a year, which is just absolutely ridiculous,” says Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, who recently signed a letter to the Pentagon asking about the costs racked up by the president’s use of Air Force One.
Political hay has long been made over personal travel by presidents. Republicans regularly excoriated Obama for the cost of his trips to Hawaii and Africa, for example.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the cost of a three-day, three-legged trip Obama took from Washington to Chicago and then onto Palm Beach in February 2013. The report calculated the cost of the trip at around $3.6 million.
In fact, Judicial Watch began monitoring travel costs during the Obama administration.
“He made a big show of taking his wife up to New York on a date night. And I thought to myself, ‘Well, that sounds like a pretty darned expensive date night,’ knowing what it costs to move a president around,” Fitton says. Because the Obamas and their entourage flew on small planes, the cost of that trip was relatively low. Press reports put it at around $25,000.
The Obama administration was reluctant to answer questions about travel costs, forcing Judicial Watch to file Freedom of Information requests to get an answer (Secret Service documents show $11,648.17 in security expenses for that trip). So far, the Trump White House hasn’t been much more transparent, Fitton says.
“There has to be an awareness that it costs money to go down there, and they should justify the cost or explain to the American people why it’s necessary,” he says.
A million dollars for a weekend trip to Florida is actually chump change for the Pentagon, with its annual budget of $600 billion, but Gallego says that isn’t really the point.
“We’ve had to stop hiring child care specialists in child care day centers on Army bases because the president has done a hiring freeze,” he says. “If the president wants to ask the country to sacrifice and other government agencies to sacrifice, then he should be doing the same.”