White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Friday declined to answer questions about whether it is appropriate that First Lady Michelle Obama is travelling separately from the president to her Hawaii vacation, forcing taxpayers to pay for two flights to get the family out there.
Obama had to delay his vacation while Congress wraps up its business. Michelle left anyway.
The price tag for the first lady’s separate travel is likely in excess of $100,000, and quite possibly a lot more.
Carney declined to comment on the wisdom of billing taxpayers for an extra trip. Making matters worse for the West Wing – the first lady’s offices are in the East Wing – Obama only recently issued a directive urging agencies to cut down on miscellaneous costs like travel.
Carney appeared to be obliquely criticizing my story earlier this week on Michelle’s travel, calling the piece “interesting” but not detailing any specific objections.
If anything, I’ve been conservative in my estimate, since the one-way cost of the Air Force jet that ferried her there is in excess of $60,000, and the plane presumably has to be flown back to the mainland. And then there’s security, logistics, and a possible cargo plane flight that often accompanies first ladies on such trips.
Here’s the exchange between Carney and a reporter.
Q Yes. The First Lady is going to be leaving in a few hours for Hawaii. Obviously she isn’t able to go with the President. But I wanted to ask, isn’t it quite an extravagance — four people to go in two jets to Hawaii — particularly given the state of the economy, the state of the budget, and also given the directive that was just put out about limiting air travel by the administration?
MR. CARNEY: Two things, Mike. First of all, I think you ought to check your sourcing on that. I think the original story was an interesting one. But the First Lady and their daughters —
Q — another story, but —
MR. CARNEY: The First Lady and their daughters will be traveling today, as originally planned, for their annual holiday trip to visit their family in the President’s home state of Hawaii. As previous First Ladies have done, they will travel on a military aircraft.
Q But, I mean, couldn’t they wait, everybody go on one — so there’s one jet instead of two.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it was that —
Q I mean, Air Force One is $185,000 an hour to operate, and that’s a long flight.
MR. CARNEY: Again, as previous First Ladies have done, they will travel on a military aircraft. As previous First Ladies have done, they will travel separate from the President on a — and that has been a practice in previous administrations. As you know, the President has made clear for a long time now that he will stay to ensure that Congress gets its work done.
It also seems Carney is trying to suggest that the first lady’s separate travel was routine and pre-planned.
If it was scheduled as a separate flight, this would still be due to the threat of her having to miss a few days of vacation, since the plan in the past has been that they go together. The Obamas traveled to Hawaii together in 2009 and were supposed to in 2010, when Obama was also delayed and she decided to leave on time on a separate flight – also at a cost of tens of thousands to taxpayers.