Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits cost Coast Guard nearly $20M
By NICK PENZENSTADLER | USA Today | Published: June 20, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — Taxpayers have paid nearly $20 million for extra Coast Guard patrols that protected President Donald Trump by land and sea during 16 winter and spring trips to West Palm Beach since his inauguration, according to new records obtained by USA TODAY.
The spending records include all but one of his trips to his Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida since the inauguration in January 2017. The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, does not include the cost of a weeklong trip in April when Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The president has spent 69 days of his presidency at Mar-a-Lago, 33 at his course in Bedminster, N.J., and 31 at Trump National in Sterling, Va.
Each trip to Florida hits the Coast Guard budget for more than $1 million, the records show, and is only a part of the costs taxpayers pay for the president’s affinity for visiting the estate he calls the “Southern White House.”
The Government Accountability Office put an overall estimate of more than $3 million on presidential trips to Florida — based on President Obama’s time flying at $200,000 per hour on Air Force One — Secret Service staff, local authorities and overtime. A more specific examination of Trump’s visits is underway by the GAO and will be completed in the fall.
Coast Guard records show the service continues to assign both 29-foot rubber boats and 87-foot patrol boats with .50 caliber machine guns. An H-65 rescue helicopter patrols the airspace near Mar-a-Lago for about $8,000 per flight-hour.
Records show Coast Guard staff logged about 4,236 hours on the vessels and helicopter on presidential protective duty from April 2017 to March 2018. The luxury estate and private club sits on a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. Both waterways require Coast Guard patrols.
Presidential patrols come amid a continued funding pinch for the Coast Guard, which has a $10 billion annual budget. The service has a maintenance backlog and lobbied hard for a funding increase in the president’s latest budget proposal. It also felt the strain from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate that blasted 2,500 miles of U.S. shoreline over a five-week stretch.
The $14 million Trump absorbed in his visits over the last year could go a long way toward increasing the service’s drug interdiction program, which netted a record 223 metric tons of cocaine last year, said U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. who serves on the House subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard's work.
“What could this money be used for? The president likes to talk about a big beautiful border wall to stop drugs from coming in, but if you put $15 million to work in the ocean, you’d stop a lot of drugs,” Garamendi said.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Alana Miller said the service budgets for presidential travel throughout every administration. The conservative legal advocacy group Judicial Watch tallied the total eight-year tab for Obama’s official trips and vacations at $96 million.
Coast Guard boats also patrol the small portion of the Potomac River near the president’s suburban Virginia golf course whenever he visits. Miller said the river technically doesn’t close — but is restricted and mariners are instructed to radio or call about planned travel.
Coast Guard costs account for a portion of the infrastructure surrounding the president and his staff when he travels. Local police and fire officials strained by overtime and extra staffing needs received funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency in December with a $41 million grant.
A majority of those funds, $36 million, went to the New York City Police Department for protection near Trump Tower. But federal taxpayers also reimbursed police agencies in Florida and New Jersey for presidential travel.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla. represents the district where Mar-a-Lago sits in West Palm Beach. She’s lobbied for the $41 million in the current omnibus budget bill and is hoping for the same funding next year since the president is expected to continue is winter trips to the estate.
“I don’t like Donald Trump, but I don’t want him hurt in Palm Beach County. When he comes in, I‘m absolutely in favor of the law enforcement protection,” Frankel said. “If it inconveniences people, it comes down to being too bad. The only person who can change it is the president himself. He refuses to give up a lot of his past life.”
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said he met with Trump in 2017 about the costs and protection duties. It costs roughly $80,000 a day when the president arrives.
“I’ve told people I’m not worried about the costs. I’ve known him for a long time and I sat with him and he said ‘you’ll get your money back,’ and he’s a man of his word,” Bradshaw, a registered Democrat that holds the non-partisan office, said.
FEMA issued the sheriff's office a reimbursement check for $3.3 million in December.