White House defends high bills for Africa trip
The White House Friday defended the first family’s upcoming weeklong trip to Africa, which could cost taxpayers up to $100 million, as “great bang for our buck.”
“There will be a great bang for our buck for being in Africa because when you travel to regions like Africa that don’t get a lot of presidential attention, you tend to have very longstanding and long-running impact from the visit,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President Obama.
The Obamas’ trip, at a time of “sequestration” budget cuts, will take them to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa from June 26 to July 3. Citing a confidential planning document, the Washington Post reported that the trip will cost between $60 million to $100 million.
The excursion will involve military cargo planes airlifting 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines, and three trucks to carry bulletproof glass panels to cover the windows where the first family is set to stay. A Navy aircraft carrier or amphibious ship with a fully staffed medical trauma center will be stationed offshore in case of an emergency.
Fighter jets will fly in shifts to provide around-the-clock protection over the president’s airspace. The trip will reportedly involve hundreds of Secret Service agents.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama also had planned to take a safari in Tanzania, which reportedly would have required a special counterassault team to carry sniper rifles in the event of a threat from wild animals. But the safari was canceled in favor of a trip to Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner.
“Africa’s a critically important region of the world,” he said. “This is a deeply substantive trip and one that has been highly anticipated on the continent. And, frankly, there’s been great disappointment that the president hasn’t traveled to Africa until this point, other than a brief stop in Ghana.”
Presidential travel is expensive; the cost alone of operating Air Force One is about $180,000 per flight hour. President Clinton’s trip to Africa in 1998 cost about $42.8 million. President George W. Bush made two trips to Africa during his two terms, although cost estimates aren’t available for those visits.
Mr. Obama is expected to spend part of the trip emphasizing the importance of global health programs, including HIV/AIDS prevention.
“We have huge interests there,” Mr. Rhodes said. “You’ve got some of the fastest growing economies in Africa. You’ve got a massively growing youth population. You’ve got key security and counterterrorism issues that we work on with African countries.”
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