Hypocrisy is one thing. But President Donald Trump distinguishes himself by the utter shamelessness of his double dealing.
Take presidential vacation time, for example. Trump, for years, has been a braying critic of the downtime taken by President Barack Obama and the first family while Obama was in office.
Tweeting in 2011, Trump, calling Obama “the habitual vacationer” and complained that a trip to Hawaii was “costing taxpayers $4 million.”
In another tweet, he asked: “Why did @BarackObama and his family travel separately to Martha’s Vineyard? They love to extravagantly spend on the taxpayers’ dime.”
During a campaign rally last year, Trump told a cheering crowd: “There’s no time for vacation. We’re not going to be big on vacations. The White House is this incredible place. It represents so much, and you’re there for a limited period of time. If you’re at the White House and you have so much work to do, why do you fly? Why do you leave so much?”
And in 2014, Trump tweeted: “Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter.”
Let the record show that Trump has played golf at least 10 times during his first few months in office.
Trump has yet to take off on an extended vacation. But he has spent five weekends since assuming the presidency at his Mar-a-lago resort in Florida – and was scheduled to leave for the “Southern White House” again this weekend.
Exact figures for the cost of each of these trips – Secret Service, travel on Air Force One, local police protection, etc. – are not available. But a similar three-day trip by Obama to Chicago in 2013 cost the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security about $3.8 million.
At that rate, Trump already could have cost taxpayers nearly $20 million for these “working weekends.”
And taxpayers also are picking up the tab for protecting other Trump family members as they travel the globe. A January trip by the president’s son Eric to Uruguay on official Trump Organization business cost the U.S. government nearly $100,000 in hotel costs for Secret Service agents and embassy staff.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Secret Service had requested $60 million in additional funding for next year, mostly for travel and protection of Trump and his family. Nearly half of that would pay to protect the family while ensconced the three-floor penthouse in Trump Tower.
The Post story states that an unnamed official close to the Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House, has rejected the request for the additional funding. The money will have to come from somewhere else in the Secret Service budget – but still at taxpayers’ expense.
With first lady Melania Trump and son Barron living full time in the heart of Manhattan, security costs are astronomically high. As one Secret Service official noted, they can’t stay in cheap hotels in some other borough; they have to be where the family is.
In addition to the Secret Service, local police and other law enforcement officials must help shoulder the security burden. The Post reports that New York police spent roughly $24 million for security costs at Trump Tower between the election and inauguration.
Every time Trump travels to Florida, officials with the city of Palm Beach must redirect flights over Mar-a-lago, divert traffic around the resort and provide basic security. This results in traffic jams and lost business for locals – which they reportedly are starting to resent.
McClatchy News estimated that, in total, the cost of the Obama family’s personal travel during President Obama’s eight years in office came to about $90 million. Obama, himself, took 28 vacations spanning all or part of 217 days.
His predecessor George W. Bush made 77 visits to his Texas ranch spanning all or part of 490 days, and 11 visits to his family’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine, spanning all or part of 43 days.
It would not be surprising if Trump’s downtime rate ends up being even higher.
But here’s a radical suggestion: Can we quit criticizing presidents for taking vacations? If anyone needs downtime, it’s the president of the United States.
“W” recharged his batteries chopping brush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Obama and Trump find serenity on the links, as did a number of other presidents before them.
We don’t want workaholic presidents who never rest. They need time to get away from the pressures of the job and engage in some quiet contemplation.
It’s uncertain how much contemplating Trump does in Florida, but at least we’re better off when he’s golfing than when he’s tweeting.
James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.