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Mrs. Obama’s South Africa Trip Cost Taxpayers Over $500,000

First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to South Africa and Botswana last week cost taxpayers well over half a million dollars, possibly in the range of $700,000 or $800,000, according to an analysis by White House Dossier.

Many of the trip’s expenses cannot be obtained with specificity, including the cost of local transportation for the first lady, Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of staffers, and pre-trip advance work done by administration officials in South Africa.

But it is possible to estimate some of these costs and put a price tag on one of the major expenses – her transportation to and from southern Africa and her trips between cities there.

While the goals of her journey – “youth leadership, education, health and wellness” in southern Africa, according to the White House – are laudable, many may question whether such an expensive outreach overseas by the president’s wife is worthwhile given the threat of the ballooning federal debt to the economy.

This is particularly true given that the trip, while featuring many official events, also included tourist components such as visits to historical landmarks and museums, a nonworking chance to meet Nelson Mandela that Mrs. Obama described as “surreal,” and a safari. Mrs. Obama also brought along her mother, her daughters and two of their cousins – the children of her brother Craig Robinson.

In a conversation last week with a South African online newspaper, U.S. Embassy Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau made clear that the trip was partially a personal pilgrimage for the first lady.

“She’s coming on this trip to talk about women’s development and youth development, and South Africa is a leader in that, not only on the continent but globally,” said Trudeau. “A visit to South Africa is important for them as a family. She’ll be visiting many Struggle-era landmarks, including the Apartheid Museum (and) the Hector Pieterson Memorial.”

Based on the plane’s tail number and a description of it in a press pool report, it’s clear Mrs. Obama flew over and back on a C-32, a specially configured military version of the Boeing 757 that also ferries the vice president on occasion and is sometimes known as “Air Force Two.”

According to publicly available Defense Department figures, DOD charges other federal agencies $12,723 an hour to cover expenses for the use of a C-32. Based on the distance traveled and the flight speed of the plane, this adds up to about $430,000 for use of the aircraft alone.

Perhaps the best estimate of the other costs involved in such a trip comes not from official sources but from a reporter, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. In a 2002 article, he wrote that his reporting had found that a single presidential fundraising trip within the United States by then-President George W. Bush could cost close to $100,000 for items like staff, Secret Service and advance work.

While the first lady would certainly have a smaller retinue than a president, it seems very safe to say that a weeklong trip by Mrs. Obama to a high-crime country like South Africa would involve at least the expense of a single domestic trip by a president ten years ago, and probably much more.

In addition, a military cargo plane typically accompanies a first lady on overseas trips to bring cars and other gear. It is not clear if a cargo plane also went along on this trip, but if it did – as is likely – it could easily have added another $200,000 to the cost, based on Defense Department rates for cargo planes.

Mrs. Obama’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

455 Responses to Mrs. Obama’s South Africa Trip Cost Taxpayers Over $500,000

  1. You all know what this is about…..reallly….! Get a life…

    George W. Bush, for example, traveled frequently to his Texas ranch for vacations and R&R. Bill Clinton went to Martha’s Vineyard for vacations in the summer. George H.W. Bush often traveled to his retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, for breaks from Washington.

    The opposition party sometimes jumps on these trips and argues that the president is being extravagant or sending the wrong signal of self-indulgence to the country. That’s what’s happening to Obama now.

    As Media Matters for America documented, several media outlets and figures advanced false comparisons of the total costs of President Obama’s inauguration and Bush’s 2005 inauguration, misrepresenting Obama’s as more expensive. Those outlets used figures that excluded security, transportation, and other incidental costs to federal, state, and local governments incurred in conjunction with the events in 2005, while including them in the projections for the 2009 event.

    Numerous media reports throughout Bush’s presidency indicate that he used Air Force One for his vacation trips to his Crawford ranch. The Los Angeles Times’ James Gerstenzang reported in an April 28, 2001, article, “For Bush, All Roads Lead to Crawford,” that Bush himself said he was about to take Air Force One to his ranch. Gerstenzang reported that Bush said:

    “I like to get outside of Washington. I like to go to where the space is open, where I can walk around with Spot and Barney, the two family dogs. My wife loves our country, the country house we’ve got, and so do I, and so I beg your forgiveness for not eating dinner here tonight. … I’m fixing to get on Air Force One and take it to Crawford, Texas.”

    In a December 27, 2001, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Sun-Sentinel article (accessed via Nexis), national correspondent Jeff Zeleny reported “[a]fter spending Christmas at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, the president and first lady boarded Air Force One to travel to their ranch near the village of Crawford.”

    An August 4, 2006, report from Bergen County, New Jersey’s, The Record, “Bush begins his vacation” (accessed via Nexis), similarly reported that Bush took Air Force One to Texas for his “10-day summer vacation at his Crawford ranch.”

    And on December 26, 2007, The Associated Press reported that Bush took “Air Force One to fly from his Maryland mountaintop retreat to his Texas ranch here to see in the new year.” The AP included a photo with the following caption:

    Photo by AP

    President Bush and first lady Laura Bush wave, as they walk with Mrs. Bush’s mother Jenna Welch, past Brig. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, obscured, on their way to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Wednesday, enroute to Crawford, Texas.

    Other photographs and accompanying captions report that Bush used Air Force One to travel to Crawford. An Agence France-Presse photograph and accompanying caption from The Guardian’s website:

    6 August 2002: President Bush tries to persuade his dog Barney to walk up the steps to Air Force One on the tarmac at Andrews air force base, en route to the president’s ranch in Crawford

    Photograph: Paul J. Richards/AFP

    An Associated Press photograph and caption:

    AP Photo 21 months ago

    President Bush, second from left, walks with outgoing White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove toward Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Monday, Aug. 13, 2007. Accompanying them is first lady Laura Bush, left, and Air Force Col. Margaret Woodward. The President was leaving for Crawford, Texas.

  2. Key words: “OVER SEAS!”

    If its the Obamas personal $$ or our tax $$ either way other countries are getting US $$. How about keep ur behinds here and help out OUR country and spend your $$ HERE!!!!!!!!
    If our OWN president and his family dont even want to spend their $$ in their OWN country, that should say something right there…. Just stating the obvious.

  3. The only Vacation the Obama tribe should take is back to their roots, CHICAGO. Back to their lefty frienda and he can sit there and VOTE NOT PRESENT as hed did so many times in Congress and the Senate.Yes a very important trip by the Big O’s Wifey. At least Mendela gave a carp about his country not like the Obama’s that hate America but can’t wait to spend it’s MONEY!! I cannot wait until November 2012 and get rid of this LEACH and his FAMILY. This man that is called President (I myself will never call him that) will make millions and millions of dollars from talking engagments because he NEVER keeps is BIG MOUTH SHUT!! If only he was anything like Mandela he would have brought this Nation closer together, instead he is a Muslum loving backstapping conartist!! Just look and see how close he has made Black and White Americans closer, what a JOKE! He can go back and kiss Jerimia’s ass in the front row after office and he probably will for he is not Black or White he is an Obamanation that received 99.9 % of the black vote and the rest were either on drugs or to stupid to really listen to what this con man was really about. Whom ever voted for him you got what you deserve the only problem is those that didn’t are in the same boat as all of you FOOLS!!

  4. Michelle “Wildebeast” Obama makes me sick. Who do these people think they are kidding anyway? Official visit yeah right! She eats everything in sight and has no problem running up huge bills that we have to pay for. I don’t understand why you people continue to elect people like this?? No person of class would ever take trips like this when the country is broke and out of work. This is so classless it’s something only a liberal would see no problem with.

  5. Mrs Obama’s Bostwana vacation alone cost over $500,000 plus 430,000 for use of the air craft alone, and she took her 2 children her Mother 2 cousins and her brothers two kids, not including the additional secret service, that is over $930,000, for hyst that trip.The U.S is close to bankrupcy, children are literally starving to death dying every day why don’t we insist that those TAX PAYER dollars go instead to help the starving babies and let Michelle and family and friends stay HOME!!!! for once. what a spoiled selfish attitude hope they sleep well at night and pray their own children will never have to go through what /Africian children are!!!!

  6. You do know that other First Ladies have made the same trip, often longer in duration?

    Laura Bush went to Africa 5 times and took their daughters. Hillary Clinton went to Africa and took Chelsea. Perhaps we should investigate those visits, too?

    Tell me why Michelle should not enjoy the same amenities as other First Ladies?

  7. i believe only god can do something about the obamas they must be voted out of the whitehouse so we americans can save our country from these commuists i pray we are not too late god save our america now thank you

  8. We are supporting Michelle’s mom completely because she came to the White House with them and never left. Just think of all the money she is able to save by living there free for eight years! Of course, we are supporting her in style, since she goes on all of the vacations.