Ernst: Trump's Costly Trips 'Bothering' Some GOP Senators, Must Be Discussed

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk together after their meetings at Mar-a-Lago on April 7, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she and other GOP senators are questioning why President Trump is spending so much time away from the White House.

Trump has spent more than half of his weekends at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, including hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His son, Eric, defended the trips and 16 golf outings in 13 weeks of presidency as “a very effective tool” for the commander in chief: “If he can befriend people and find common respect, common ground and friendship – if you can have a good time together – then you are always going to see somebody in a very different light.” Membership dues at Mar-a-Lago have also doubled since Trump ascended to the Oval Office.

Judicial Watch, which tracked and slammed President Obama for $96 million in travel over eight years, said they would similarly scrutinize Trump’s travel, including the Mar-a-Lago trips that are estimated to run taxpayers about $1 million to $3 million each and could outpace costs of Obama’s total travel in one year. The Government Accountability Office told lawmakers last month that they would conduct a requested review of Trump’s travel costs, including examining whether adequate spaces exist at Mar-a-Lago to deal with classified information.

The GAO is also studying whether the Secret Service and Defense Department have mechanisms to rein in travel costs. CBS News reported last week that the Secret Service had spent $35,185 on golf cart rentals in Palm Beach before Easter weekend.

Trump, who was critical of Obama’s travel, hasn’t used the highly secure Maryland presidential retreat he dubbed “very rustic,” Camp David.

At a town hall in her home state Tuesday, Ernst was asked about the frequent Mar-a-Lago trips.

“I wish he would spend more time in Washington, D.C., as that’s what we have the White House for and we’d love to see more of those State Department visits in Washington, D.C., and I think it’s smart that he does business in Washington, D.C., so I’ve had those same concerns myself,” Ernst replied.

“I have not spoken to him about the Florida issue yet, but that is something that I think has been bothering not just me but some other members of our caucus,” the senator added. “So, I think that is going to be a topic of discussion that we have when we get back to Washington, D.C.”

Ernst also told the crowd of constituents that “we have a president that has a number of flaws.”

“I support a majority of the policies, versus the actual person, but I decry any time a person is ugly towards another person, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” she said.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended Trump’s travel at a March 20 briefing, saying “presidents always travel.”

“And I think the president, wherever he goes, he carries the apparatus of the White House with us. That is just something that happens. The president will continue to go and travel around the country and have meetings to solve the nation’s problems,” Spicer said.

Mar-a-Lago, he added, “is where he goes to see his family. He brings people down there. This is part of being president.”

At the end of March, Spicer was asked whether Trump feels any concern about the pushback over his travel costs.

“No, he feels great,” Spicer told reporters.