President Donald Trump arrives at the White House on Wednesday after a trip to Reno, Nev., one of many he’s made as president. Calculating the costs to taxpayers of Trump’s travels and protection for his many residences is not simple. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Trump travel costliest ever to taxpayers? Too soon to tell

Conservative pundit David Frum declared some costs incurred by the president unprecedented.

In an interview, Frum clarified that “personal lifestyle costs” excluded work trips, such as the G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany, or presidential residences where security costs are fixed, like the presidential retreat at Camp David.

Frum had in mind weekend trips like those to Trump-owned golf resorts in Palm Beach, Fla., Sterling, Va., and Bedminster, N.J.

“The Florida/Bedminster costs are entirely volitional, as are the costs of Melania’s decision to live apart from her husband for most of his first year in office. There is no public purpose to any of those decisions,” Frum told PolitiFact.

It’s hard to separate leisure and work when it comes to the presidency, particularly as Trump has hosted state visits at his resorts. Could his leisure trips and residential circumstances amount to the costliest ever?

It’s too early to tell, as even the highest estimates of Trump’s spending can’t match former President Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Trump does seem on pace to outstrip previous presidential spending by the end of his term.

Here’s the important point to keep in mind: There are no definitive reports on the cost of Trump’s travel, nor of any other president. The most comprehensive analyses are on Trump and Obama’s presidencies and have been done by watchdog groups.

The Government Accountability Office traditionally computes costs for presidential travel, but it has not calculated lifestyle costs for any president. Instead, it has looked into specific trips at Congress’ request. It said a four-day vacation President Barack Obama took to Palm Beach in February 2013 cost approximately $3.6 million, and that is the basis of much speculation on the cost of Trump’s travel.

Basing its estimates on that report, the liberal Center for American Progress said that a trip to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 million, which we rated Half True.

It’s not precise to stick that price tag on every presidential trip, as costs vary depending on the size of the vehicles used and where they’re flown in from. That trip included a stop in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, and costs for Air Force One travel were almost $60,000 higher per hour at the time, according to Judicial Watch, a conservative-leaning organization that has sued both Democratic and Republican administrations for public records.

Using the $3.6 million estimate, the Center for American Progress placed Trump’s personal travel costs through Aug. 3 at $32 million.

That’s a bit under a third of what Judicial Watch calculated Obama spent on personal travel in his eight years in office ($100 million).

Judicial Watch offered a more conservative estimate for Trump. It calculated the costs of five of Trump’s and three of Melania Trump’s Mar-a-Lago visits and Vice President Mike Pence’s Super Bowl trip in February using Air Force hourly travel rates obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Those added up to $3.6 million.

However, that excludes any trips after March and security costs, as the Secret Service hasn’t yet provided the data requested through the Freedom of Information Act. They also exclude other expenses, like $3.3 million in overtime costs Palm Beach County’s presidential residence protection program incurred during Trump’s visits.

Our rating

It’s too early to call Trump’s personal travel itinerary the costliest in presidential history, as he’s only a few months into the job. It’s also a bold claim to make in the absence of definitive data on the costs of presidential travel, which is generally not disclosed. Travel and security records we gathered do suggest Trump is on pace to outstrip Obama’s spending on security and transport costs. But it’s still too soon to tell, and Frum’s statement remains an exaggeration. We rate it Mostly False.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.