Presidential vacations have a way of rubbing people the wrong way, but the timing of President Obama’s latest lavish getaway has raised more than a few eyebrows.
With Ebola running loose on the African continent, with a terrorist group beheading Christians in Iraq and threatening to take over the country, with a border crisis at home and race riots in the streets of suburban St. Louis, it seems like the world is spinning out of control at the same time the Obamas are relaxing at a hidden hideaway on Martha’s Vineyard.
And people are taking notice.
“The president has many fans on the island, but we’re told even some of Obama’s most ardent supporters are questioning the wisdom of this summer’s sojourn as war roils Gaza and a wave of families and children are crossing the southwestern U.S. border illegally,” reported the Boston Globe.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, unlike most trips to Martha’s Vinyard, this one will actually be a “working” vacation, and Obama has already made one trip back to Washington in between trips to the beach and the golf course to talk about the renewed war in Iraq.
One watchdog group that has taken an in-depth look at presidential vacations through the decades is Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Watch. The group has filed Freedom of Information lawsuits to obtain financial records that show Obama’s travel costs – sitting at more than $44 million as of March 2014 – have now exceeded that of any other presidency.
“Obama is fiddling while the Middle East burns,” Jill Farrell, spokeswoman for Judicial Watch, told WND. “It’s not terribly reassuring, that he interrupts his golf game (to tend to the war in Iraq).”
Judicial Watch has been following the Obama travel story since the infamous “New York Date Night” shortly after his first election. That tab for the evening was estimated at $72,000.
“It made us begin to take notice. And now everything that can be known through the Freedom of Information Act is known and we are still getting rolling production from the Department of Defense as well as Secret Service, as additional documents will be forthcoming as part of Judicial Watch’s ongoing investigation,” Farrell said.
It’s important to note, Ferrell said, that most of the documents received by Judicial Watch have been forced into the sunlight by federal courts. Very little is handed over without putting up a legal fight, she said.
“Occasionally they answer one of our requests but not reliably so. More often than not, it requires a court order,” she said. “The Department of Defense has provided us with a formula so we know how much it costs to fly Air Force One but it doesn’t include the cost of all their meals and entertainment and all of the front work for their trips. It’s a rather flagrant abuse of public funds.”
And some of the most flagrant tabs run up by the Obamas involve trips for their children taken independent of the president. The children averaged a vacation a month in the first three months of 2013.
In 2012 Judicial Watch found that one trip to Mexico by then 13-year-old first-daughter Malia Obama cost the taxpayer $115,500. She was accompanied by 25 Secret Service agents and as many as 12 of her friends.
“Yes, the oldest child was remarkably in Mexico during one spring break, and Michelle has taken them to Aspen, Colorado, and to China,” Farrell said.
There have been long Christmas vacations to Hawaii. And there have been short weekend getaways that run up tabs in excess of $295,000, and this does not even include the cost of cranking up Air Force One, according to records obtained by Judicial Watch.
The White House, like Congress, is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. But documents describing the Pentagon’s role in presidential travel, along with those of the Secret Service and Homeland Security, do fall under the Act and are considered public records. This is where Judicial Watch has found a treasure trove of information.
Then there is the issue of higher expectations that Obama brought upon himself with statements he made as a U.S. senator in 2008, now famously captured on video, saying that those running for president should not ever take vacations. They submit themselves to a separate standard, he said, that comes with the office of the presidency.
“The bargain that any president strikes with is, you give me this office and in turn my, fears, doubts, insecurities, foibles, need for sleep, family life, vacations, leisure is gone,” Obama said. “I am giving myself to you.”
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said in a statement last month that the Obamas are “abusing the public trust and the taxpayers with unnecessary luxurious vacations and travel. These staggering costs show why these documents were covered up and we had to sue in federal court to get them. Another transparency fail for the Obama gang.”
Here are some of the other findings of the Judicial Watch investigation:
- As of March 2014, Obama has spent more time traveling internationally than any other president, taking 31 trips since assuming office in 2009. The 119 days spent overseas cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
- At the same point in their respective presidencies, George W. Bush had spent 116 days on 28 trips, Bill Clinton had spent 113 days on 27 trips and Ronald Reagan had spent 73 days on just 14 trips.
- In 2010, Obama flew aboard Air Force One 172 times, nearly every other day. Just the cost of flying aboard Air Force One to Obama’s hometown of Chicago can cost around $180,000 per hour.
- In addition to all of his international travel, the president spends a significant amount of time traveling with his family. The Obama family has taken vacations to exclusive beaches in New England, private clubs in Key Largo and, of course, luxurious beaches in Hawaii.
- According to the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, beginning with the infamous New York “date night,” the Obamas have spent $44,351,777.12 in taxpayer cash on travel expenses.
- The actual total cost may be higher, as the White House is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.