By now you’ve read — probably countless times — that Donald Trump’s travel budget is so YUGE that it’s “on pace to surpass 8 years of Obama’s travel in 1 year.” Via CNN:
— Athena Jones (@AthenaCNN) April 12, 2017
CNN got its estimate for Trump — $21.6M — by taking the cost of a trip Obama took to Palm Beach in 2013 — $3.6M — and multiplying it by 6, the number of times Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago:
Given variations in each trip, estimating the security costs around a presidential trip is difficult. But a 2016 Government Accountability Office report about a four-day trip Obama took to Florida in 2013 — one similar to Trump’s trips — found the total cost to the Secret Service and Coast Guard was $3.6 million.
To date, Trump has spent six weekends — and a total of 21 days — at Mar-A-Lago, his private Palm Beach club. The total estimated costs for those trips are around $21.6 million.
As for Obama’s total — $97M over 8 years — CNN relied on a report from Judicial Watch:
Obama, by contrast, spent just under $97 million on travel in his eight years as president, according to documents reviewed by Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog. These trips included personal trips – including ski trips to Aspen and the Obama’s annual family vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts — and work trips, like a visit to Everglades National Park on Earth Day in 2015.
But, surprise! The Chicago Tribune contacted the author of the 2016 GAO study that CNN used for the $3.6M estimate and he’s says you can’t compare the two trips:
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) April 13, 2017
From the Tribune:
The GAO’s bottom line for that trip, not including regular White House personnel costs as well as some classified expenses, was $3.6 million. But the author of that report, Brian Lepore, says that figure shouldn’t be applied to Trump’s travel.
“It’s hard to substitute one trip for another, even if the destination is the same,” Lepore said. Each time a president travels, the Defense Department must airlift equipment such as the protective limousines, security vehicles and occasionally helicopters from various military bases around the country.
Oh, and CNN left this out of its report — Obama flew to Chicago before flying to Palm Beach:
Another problem with extrapolating from the October 2016 GAO report is that it included a leg from Washington to Chicago, where Obama gave an economic speech before heading to Palm Beach for a long weekend of golf.
Obama was only in Chicago for a few hours, but costs pile up because each destination triggers the need for the Secret Service to prepare and protect the site and the Defense Department to move the equipment involved.
Another significant cost-driver, GAO noted, is the per-hour cost of military aircraft, such as the president’s plane, Air Force One. So it’s not just a matter of slicing off a few hundred thousand dollars to come up with the $3 million estimate.
“If you take out Chicago, that just means the equipment is going to have to come from other bases,” Lepore said. Sometimes that means more money, sometimes less.
Judicial Watch, which CNN also quoted in its article, puts the estimate of Trump’s travel at closer to $1M/visit:
Judicial Watch arrives at its $1 million figure by estimating flight time and typical Secret Service costs, leaving out airlifting equipment such as the presidential limousines. Those costs also aren’t fully included in Judicial Watch’s $96 million total for Obama.
Time for some corrections, people.