Trump has spent more time on presidential getaways than Barack Obama did in his first 100 days but not as much time away from Washington as George W. Bush did at the beginning of his presidency. Much of the time Bush and Obama spent away from the White House in their first 100 days was at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland that’s a short helicopter ride from Washington. Trump has yet to visit Camp David.
Presidents routinely take breaks from Washington, but University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says Trump’s early treks to Florida are different.
“Here’s what’s unusual about it — it’s that he’s had such a concentrated period of travel in total during the first 100 days. Most presidents stick very close to the White House during that time. If they go anywhere, they go to Camp David,” said Sabato.
Trump as president has logged 419¼ hours — about 17½ days — in Palm Beach County, primarily at Mar-a-Lago and his nearby Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach, according to an analysis by The Palm Beach Post.
Counting side trips to Tampa, Melbourne and Orlando and time aboard Air Force One, Trump has spent about 19 days either in Florida or traveling to or from the Sunshine State.
Trump’s Palm Beach visits have included drop-ins on society balls at Mar-a-Lago and an estimated 14 golf outings. But they have also included summit meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, final approval for missile strikes on Syria, selection of a national security adviser and other official business.
It’s part of a long tradition of commanders-in-chief blending leisure and business away from the White House. Those who study presidential travel tend to balk at the word “vacation” to describe presidential trips.
“A U.S. president is never really on ‘vacation.’ The responsibilities and duties of the job go with him wherever he is,” says veteran CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, widely seen as the foremost expert on presidential schedules over the last four decades.
U.S. Naval Academy political science professor Brendan Doherty, in a study on presidential travel for the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, writes that “a president is never truly on vacation. No matter where he or she goes, a president must always be on the job, tending to critical affairs of state, whether it be at the White House, on Air Force One, at Camp David, at a second home, or in another location, taking a break from some but not all of the duties of the job.”
Trump’s critics note that his Florida visits haven’t merely been to a private residence but to his own businesses where dues-paying members get access to the president. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, accuses Trump of using the presidency to boost the Trump brand.
“These constant visits to Mar-a-Lago have had a direct impact on the success of Mar-a-Lago,” Deutch said. “By hosting world leaders and treating the Mar-a-Lago dining area as a country club situation room, he’s benefiting his family directly.”
When a State Department website ran an article saying Trump was “fulfilling the dream” of original Mar-a-Lago owner Marjorie Merriweather Post by using it as a winter White House, Karen Hobert Flynn of the liberal watchdog group Common Cause filed a complaint with the Office of Government Ethics. She said the State Department was improperly using public resources to promote a private business.
Tom Fitton of the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch dismisses concerns about Trump promoting his businesses.
“I think it’s pretty weak tea. He’s president of the United States. He stays at Mar-a-Lago. That’s life…We elected a billionaire with this type of business interests to the presidency,” Fitton said.
But Fitton expressed some concern about the costs of the repeated trips, which he estimates cost federal taxpayers about $1 million a weekend. His estimate includes about four hours of round-trip flying time for Air Force One at $142,380 per flight hour and Secret Service expenses. Others have estimated the costs at as much as $3 million per weekend visit.
Aside from the Air Force One costs, first lady Melania Trump has flown separately to or from Palm Beach International Airport on several occasions on a variety of aircraft, but those planes have much lower costs than Air Force One.
“If he continues to travel like he’s doing, it’s going to continue to create issues for him,” Fitton said.
In addition to the federal costs, Palm Beach County taxpayers have spent nearly $4 million on visits by Trump as president-elect and president, mainly for sheriff’s deputies who assist the Secret Service. Local officials are trying to get the federal government to reimburse local taxpayers. Deutch has suggested the Mar-a-Lago Club be on the hook for the local costs.
While Trump’s presidential time in and around Mar-a-Lago has added up to 17½ days, the trips have covered at least some portion of 25 days. That’s the way Knoller of CBS has measured presidential travel for decades.
By Knoller’s count, Trump has spent all or a portion of 25 days at Mar-a-Lago, compared to the 33 full or partial days that Bush spent away from the White House during his first 100 days. Bush spent at least a portion of 12 days at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and 21 days at Camp David during that span.
Obama’s first 100 days included 13 full or partial days away from the White House — nine at Camp David and a four-day weekend in Chicago, according to Knoller’s records.
It’s not unusual for presidents to spend significant amounts of time away from the White House.
• Franklin Roosevelt made regular trips to Warm Springs in Georgia and died there during an April 1945 visit.
• Harry Truman spent all or part of 193 days — about 15 percent of his presidency — in Key West at a U.S. Naval facility that became known as the “Little White House.”
• America’s first Palm Beach president, John F. Kennedy, spent at least 96 full or partial days in Palm Beach while he was in office, according to records from the Kennedy Library.
• Lyndon Johnson spent 20 percent of his presidency at the LBJ Ranch in Texas, according to the LBJ Presidential Library.
• Richard Nixon spent considerable time at his San Clemente estate in California, hosting Soviet Union leader Leonid Brezhnev and other world leaders there.
• In his single term, Jimmy Carter spent all or part of 376 days at Camp David by Knoller’s count. The Carter Administration counted 6,647½ hours, or 277 days, at Camp David. Camp David is where Carter brokered the 1978 peace accord between Egypt and Israel and where he fine-tuned his infamous “malaise” speech of 1979.
• Ronald Reagan spent all or part of 349 days at his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., another 41 days in Palm Springs, Calif., and 517 days at Camp David, according to Knoller’s records. That’s nearly one-third of his presidency.
• George H.W. Bush’s single term included 65 days at Camp David and 174 days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, according to estimates Doherty obtained from the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
• Bill Clinton spent 173 full or partial days at Camp David and 174 days at other getaways, including six trips to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, according to Doherty’s research.
• Knoller said George W. Bush spent all or part of 490 days at his Texas ranch, 43 days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, and 487 full or partial days at Camp David. Bush hosted world leaders 20 times at his ranch and 19 times at Camp David.
• Obama spent all or part of 235 days on getaway trips, primarily to Hawaii or Martha’s Vineyard, as well as 93 full or partial days at Camp David, Knoller said.