WASHINGTON – Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) last week introduced legislation that would limit the amount of money a president can spend on travel, expenditures for which both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have received criticism.
In introducing the Stop Waste And Misuse by the President (SWAMP) Act, the congressman’s office claims that Trump is on track to spend more during his first year in office than eight years of expenses under Obama. According to the conservative group Judicial Watch, Obama spent $96.9 million on family travel during his time in office. Judicial Watch records also show that Trump spent about $1.3 million for two recent flights in February and March to Mar-a-Lago, a resort in Palm Beach, Fla., owned by the Trump family. Lieu’s office estimates the total cost of security for each trip to Palm Beach at $3.7 million, while also listing a $35,000 charge for golf cart rentals ordered by the Secret Service.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton in a recent interview said it’s not a fair comparison between Obama and Trump, as there hasn’t been a large enough sample size for the latter. Some of Obama’s trips were “way out there,” according to Fitton.
“(Trump) is not taking vacation time, frankly, as much as he should,” he said, noting that Lieu’s legislation sounds like a “typical, juvenile, anti-Trump response” to a real problem, which is the cost of the presidency. “Why is it that we need an entire military expedition to move from point A to point B? Is it necessary? I appreciate they want to have all the bases covered, but is it necessary? I don’t know. Those are the sort of questions that only President Trump is going to ask.”
Lieu’s bill describes Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago as “unacceptable,” given his direct financial interest in the estate.
“Every time the President travels to Mar-a-Lago, he necessarily promotes his private business interests via free press at the Government’s expense,” the legislation reads, adding that a recent State Department promotion “of Mar-a-Lago on its official website raises serious ethics concerns.”
Judicial Watch earlier this month filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Defense Department and the Secret Service, seeking figures related to presidential, vice presidential and VIP travel expenses between December 2016 and March 2017. The lawsuit stems from FOIA requests floated to the Air Force, Marine Corps and Secret Service.
The requests sought information on various trips taken by the president and first lady Melania Trump to Palm Beach, as well as a January trip made by then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch from Denver to Washington. Other trips in question include Vice President Mike Pence’s travel to Houston in February and a trip to Aspen, Colo., in March that included Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. Judicial Watch also is seeking figures for Obama’s trip to Honolulu in December 2016.
“Our general concern is that the presidency is usually expensive, and unnecessarily so in many respects, and we’ve asked President Obama to be concerned about this. He didn’t care one wit, it seemed,” Fitton said. “You know, President Trump at least senses the criticism and seems to be – I think he went up to New Jersey to address the criticism.” At the beginning of the month, Trump spent a weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
Fitton added that Judicial Watch was just as active on this front with Obama as it has been with Trump. He argued that the reason there is so much public interest lately is that the media is “extraordinary hostile” toward Trump.
“Judicial Watch has gotten inquiries from every major network, most publications, and simply it was not comparable when we had President Obama’s travel, which was abusive and also controversial,” he said. “It’s going to be an issue for (Trump) whether he likes it or not, and we’re always going to be asking questions about it, so we sued for some of the records last week.”
Fitton said that Trump can’t control the actual cost of travel, but he can control when and where he travels.
“So if he decides to go to Florida or Mar-a-Lago, he knows a certain amount of money is going to be spent to bring him there, and if he wants to make the case the money is worth it, he should make the case,” Fitton said.