President Obama boarded Air Force One Thursday for a trip to Poland and Spain. First Lady Michelle Obama recently returned from her own international trip to Spain with her daughters and her mother. With additional visits to Liberia and Morocco, the mission of the trip was to promote the “Let Girls Learn” initiative, an inter-agency effort to address education challenges for girls overseas. This trip marks Michelle Obama’s 22nd trip abroad as First Lady through July 1, 2016. Including repeat visits, Mrs. Obama has spent 116 days out of the country, with stops in 46 countries.
While we know the First Lady’s foreign policy, communications staffers and security detail were on the trip, her Chief of Staff did not provide information on the actual size of the traveling party. This lack of transparency regarding the costs to taxpayers is one of the biggest concerns whenever the President, or the First Lady separately, travels out of the country. It is difficult to ascertain the size of the federal entourage (which may include officials from multiple agencies) as well as the related transportation, boarding, administrative, and security costs.
As NTUF noted back in 2013 amidst media scrutiny on the costs of Michelle Obama’s foreign trips, her predecessor Laura Bush had taken more trips than Mrs. Obama through that point in her tenure. Through eight years, Mrs. Bush took 46 international trips and was out of the country for 212 days. To provide additional historical comparison, NTUF compiled the international travel dates of First Lady Hillary Clinton and found she holds the record for trips, country visits, and days spent abroad by the past three First Ladies, and likely for all First Ladies.*
|International Travel by First Lady Hillary Clinton|
|International Travel by First Lady Laura Bush|
|International Travel by First Lady Michelle Obama|
|* Through Juy 1, 2016.|
The data for the tables above was obtained from news and media archives, Politifact’s map of Clinton’s travels, and by cross-referencing her trips with those of President Bill Clinton.** The exact date of arrival and departure is not always available and day totals are determined according to the best of the information available.
Although President Clinton made more trips than his wife Hillary (55 versus 47), she racked up 274 days traveling out of the country – 41 more days than her husband. She likely would have even more countries and dates stamped on her passport, but she was running for the Senate in 2000. During that year she took just one international trek, which was after the election, to Israel by herself and on to Vietnam with the President, while President Clinton took 10 total trips that year spanning 37 days and 23 countries.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the First Lady typically flies in either a C-40 or a C-32 aircraft. Judicial Watch FOIA findings show that Mrs. Obama often travels on a C-32A which costs $15,846 per flight hour to operate, excluding additional travel and security-related costs. It should be the duty of every administration to ensure these trips are worth the expense to taxpayers and that the costs, as much as possible without compromising safety, are accounted for clearly and transparently.
* International travel has become increasingly more common over the past few decades. It is unlikely that previous First Ladies would exceed Mrs. Clinton’s totals. Partial travel data is available for First Lady Nancy Reagan. She took seven solo trips abroad. President Reagan traveled 25 times internationally, but it is unclear how many those trips were with Mrs. Reagan. President George H.W. Bush took 25 trips over his single term, details regarding Barbara Bush’s travels is not readily available.
** Politifact lists a trip to historic ruins in Flores, Guatemala in November 19, 1997 that appears to be a mistake. In the afternoon of November 19, 1997 Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Washington, DC. In 1998, Guatemalan President Flores conducted Hillary Clinton on a tour of hurricane devastation.