President Donald Trump likes expensive things, if not nice ones, as does his brood. The president also likes to spend taxpayer money at his hotels, which he visits often. His four adult children also get around the world, jet-setting as part of Trump Inc.’s aspirational brand of influencer crass. Since a minority of the American people elected Donald Trump to lead the country in 2016, we are now responsible for paying for Trump’s “business” trips to Trump-themed properties at Mar-a-Lago, Bedminster, and wherever Don Jr. wants to go to kill endangered species. How much does that all cost the American public? The answer: We don’t know. And that’s exactly how the Trump administration wants it because, let’s be honest, the numbers can’t be flattering.
The expenses appear to be so eye-poppingly unflattering, in fact, that releasing Secret Service expenses for the Trump family’s protection has become a point of contention in Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s effort to re-relocate the agency at the Treasury Department. The Secret Service was moved to the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 after a 150-year run as part of the Treasury. There is bipartisan support for the move, but Democrats in the Senate are asking that the bill to relocate the agency include a provision that the Secret Service disclose the costs of the presidential family detail within 120 days of the bill’s passage. Mnuchin has said he’s all for transparency on Secret Service protection, but not before December 2020 at the earliest. That date might ring a bell as one month after the November election.
Why? Well, the most obvious answer is that Trump and his clan’s presidential lifestyle has likely been very expensive for American taxpayers. Trump alone has made more than 50 visits to his properties since taking office, according to the Washington Post’s count. CNN reports that, by its tally, Trump has spent more than 333 days as president at his own properties, nearly one-third of his presidency. That, the Post notes, puts Trump on a trajectory to far outspend Barack Obama’s presidential travel.
The government spent about $96 million on travel by Obama over eight years, according to documents obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch. A report by the Government Accountability Office, which serves as the congressional watchdog on federal spending, estimated that Trump’s travel cost $13.6 million in just one month in early 2017.
That spending was the cost all-in for Secret Service and Defense Department personnel, including equipment and office and hotel space, all of which put Trump on pace to top Obama’s eight-year travel expenditure in his first year in office. The Post puts the total cost of a Trump visit to Mar-a-Lago at $3.4 million per visit. And let’s not forget, it’s not like this is due to Trump flying all over the world to represent Americans’ interest, which would be understandable—he’s going on a weekend break, usually to play golf.
And then there are the Trumpettes. “The extensive international business travel and vacations of his grown children, with Secret Service agents in tow, as well as the expense the Secret Service incurs to secure numerous Trump properties, have added to the agency’s financial strain, according to its budget requests,” the Post reports. “Since their father was elected, Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. have made business trips to overseas locales including Ireland, Scotland, Dubai, Uruguay and India. In 2017, Eric Trump’s visit to a Trump building under construction in Uruguay cost taxpayers $97,000.” Don Jr. has reportedly given up his security detail, but who really knows what exactly that means and how often Don Jr. and his siblings are costing us.
The White House has been unforthcoming when it comes to disclosing its use of public monies on presidential travel, something that, used appropriately, would be a dull line item of necessary spending on the business of governing. The Secret Service has also been cagey, putting off submitting legally required spending reports to the Government Accountability Office in recent years. That’s left watchdogs and journalists to piece together spending numbers from across the federal government to glean what the cost of Trump’s travel might be. The result is the public has some individual brushstrokes, like the fact that the Secret Service has spent $588,000 on golf cart rentals during the Trump presidency, but not the whole picture. It’s a—big, beautiful!—picture that Donald Trump, or at least his treasury secretary, says he totally agrees the American public should see. Just not until it’s too late to do anything about it.