With his Thanksgiving vacation, President Donald Trump’s golf hobby has now cost Americans an estimated $115 million in travel and security expenses ― the equivalent of 287 years of the presidential salary he frequently boasts about not taking.
Of that amount, many hundreds of thousands ― perhaps millions ― of dollars have gone into his own cash registers, as Secret Service agents, White House staff and other administration officials stay and eat at his hotels and golf courses.
The exact amount cannot be determined because the White House refuses to reveal how many Trump aides have been staying at his properties when he visits them and will not turn over receipts for the charges incurred.
In response to a HuffPost query on Wednesday asking if she knew how many administration officials other than herself are staying at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, during his Thanksgiving stay, and how much it is all costing, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham responded with a one-word answer: “No.”
But lawsuits filed by news organisations and watchdog groups against other executive branch agencies ― the White House is exempt from Freedom of Information Act queries ― have revealed payments totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, arguably in violation of the Constitution’s domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits Trump from accepting benefits beyond his salary from the federal or any state government.
ProPublica, for example, found that Mar-a-Lago charged taxpayers $546 a night for rooms ― three times the per-diem rate and the maximum allowed by federal rules ― for 24 Trump administration officials who stayed there during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2017. Taxpayers also picked up a $1,006.60 bar tab for 54 top shelf drinks ordered by White House staff.
The group Property of the People recently revealed payments totaling $254,021 from the Secret Service to various Trump properties in just the first five months of his presidential tenure. Over that period, Trump had golfed 25 times. As of Wednesday, he has spent 223 days at a golf course he owns. If the first five months are an accurate indicator, that means the Secret Service has likely spent nearly $2.3 million in taxpayer money at Trump’s businesses, of which he is the sole owner.
“It’s becoming abundantly clear that Donald Trump uses his presidency as a way to put money into his pocket,” said Jordan Libowitz of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The issue isn’t that he likes golf. The issue is that he has spent a huge amount of his presidency making promotional appearances at his struggling golf courses, and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.”
Trump, like many Republicans, repeatedly criticised then-President Barack Obama for playing golf so frequently during his years in office. “I play golf to relax. My company is in great shape. @BarackObama plays golf to escape work while America goes down the drain,” Trump tweeted in December 2011.
During his campaign for the Oval Office, Trump claimed that as president, he would be too busy working to have time for any vacations at all. “I love golf, but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again. I don’t think I’d ever see Doral again,” he told a rally audience in February 2016, referring to two Trump-owned courses. “I don’t ever think I’d see anything. I just want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.”
Despite those remarks, Trump is on schedule to spend far more time on the golf course than Obama did. At this point in Obama’s first term, he had spent 88 days on a golf course. But Trump’s visit to his course in West Palm Beach on Wednesday was his 223rd day at one of his own courses ― two and a half times as many golfing days as Obama.
Further, Obama played the majority of his rounds at courses on military bases within a short drive of the White House, while Trump has insisted on taking numerous trips to visit his courses in New Jersey and Florida, both of which require seven-figure travel and security costs.
A Government Accountability Office report earlier this year found that each Mar-a-Lago trip costs taxpayers about $3.4 million. Much of that is to fly Air Force One and the various cargo planes needed to ferry the president’s armored limousine and other vehicles in his motorcade. Based on the report’s analysis and methodology, HuffPost estimated costs for Trump’s other non-Washington-area golf trips as of May and found that the total had passed $100 million. And that was even before Trump scheduled a June stopover in Ireland ― involving costly and elaborate preparations by the State Department ― primarily to visit and promote his resort in Doonbeg.
Trump’s visit to his resort in Turnberry, Scotland, in 2018 cost taxpayers an extra $3 million beyond what it would have cost had he remained in London prior to leaving for Finland. Of that, $1.2 million was just the expense of renting all the additional vehicles needed by the massive entourage that a foreign trip entails.
Trump’s current trip to Palm Beach is the 25th of his presidency. Wednesday was his 58th day golfing at his course in West Palm Beach. He has golfed 77 days at his Bedminster, New Jersey, course; 77 days at his Northern Virginia course; four times at his Jupiter, Florida, course; three times in Doonbeg; twice in Turnberry; and once each at his courses in Los Angeles and Doral, Florida. Since taking office, he has golfed only twice on a course he does not own, both times in Japan at the invitation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during official visits.