When a President travels: it’s embarrassing

Every now and again, a tired and predictable outrage erupts over the cost of Bush’s! Obama’s! or (fill in the blank) _____’s travel. We heard one a few weeks ago when the President went! to! Africa!

The rants are usually accompanied by charges that the President is getting all tyrannical and acting like a king plus no other President has been so respectful of hard-working tax-paying Americans, so extravagant (especially if the President being so characterized is of anther political party).

And they’re right. President protection has reached preposterous levels. As for the effectiveness of the web of security we’ve constructed, look  no further than Reagan –  shot from just a few yards away while surrounded by Secret Service.

From the time of the Kennedy assassination, the retinue – from the epic productions that are foreign travel, to the limo known as “The Beast” and the ambulances that accompany every POTUS motorcade – has grown like a cancer.

In a post called When Presidents Travel, james at PoliticalDog101 tells us in detail how costs reach absurd levels when a POTUS and/or a FLOTUS go a’callin’ – pretty much anywhere.

Here’s The Dog (he does not even try to list the number of people who travel with the President – staff aides, cooks, stewards, pilots, government functionaries):

Aircraft for the President:

  • Air Force One of course
  • a second B-747-200 back up plane in case the one the President is traveling on has trouble.

Helicopters when needed:

  • Marine One Helicopter – for POTUS
  • For security details and press, another 4-5 choppers

The helicopters are airlifted by Air Force C-17 Cargo planes to EACH stop on the trip

The vehicles:

  • Presidential Limo’s – two limos for EACH stop
  • Secret Service ‘Back-Up’ Vehicles to transport the President’s Security Detail
  • White House Communications Vehicle – This SUV will be in the motorcade to help keep up contact with the US from anywhere on the planet
  • Secret Service Counter Assault Team SUV – Heavily armed firepower to protect POTUS (in addition to the Security Detail)
  • Hazmat Vehicle – A Marine detail in case of a chemical assault on the POTUS group
  • White House Medical Team Vehicle – Usually a US Doctor from the WH Staff plus a paramedic or military medic with their equipment

All of the vehicles (about 8 to 10 ) are airlifted by Air Force C-17 Cargo planes to EACH stop

Advance planning personnel:

  • For each stop – and months in advance – White House Staff check and negotiate the best place for the POTUS to appear…..Also in those advance parties are Secret Service Teams who handle the security workups once the White House staff decide on a venue
  • In-country State Department staff will welcome the advance teams and work with them and the host country
  • If a hotel overnight is planned, EOD/Explosive Ordinance Details are flown in in advance. The hotel is then secured by separate groups of Secret Service, State and borrowed Federal Special Agents and other agencies people like Border Patrol. All of the on-site people are flown in for EACH stop in advance (and they too have to have somewhere to stay).


  • The largest group traveling with a President is the media. There are often two official press planes
  • The ‘elite’ press, the White House Press Pool actually travel with the President, in the motorcade or on Air Force One or even in one of the Marine One Helo groups


  • When the President sleeps over it’s a big thing. There must be a security ‘lock down’ of the whole hotel. Or POTUS will stay in an embassy or US military facility in countries where the Secret Service and State Department don’t feel comfortable with the local hotels

AND THEN THERE’S FLOTUS:  IF the First Lady is traveling with her man, we now have to add:

  • The First Lady of the United States will often have a SEPARATE itinerary at a stop and that means her own Transportation and Security Details, Press and Support staff.
  • FLOTUS limo – She will travel in an armored Suburban.
  •  Protective Detail – her own separate detail flies with her in Air Force One, is slotted into the motorcade and gets a Marine Helo.
  • If she goes on a separate trip  – oh boy, here we go. It’s almost back to step one for a POTUS trip.
  • The trip must be ‘advanced’ – every site visited, agents put in place
    FLOTUS has her own vehicles too and they travel in a separate C-17.

10 responses to “When a President travels: it’s embarrassing

  1. It’s not just on the road. Remember when someone tried to fly a Cessna into Clinton’s White House? The secret Service closed Pennsylvania Ave to vehicular traffic –totally screwing up traffic in downtown DC. It was a plane the tried to hit the White House with, not a Volkswagon.


  2. Thanks Moe…….

    The recent European/African Trip is rumoured to have cost the taxpayer over $130 Million….
    Remember Bush 43 met Obama in Africa….Maybe a few Million more?


  3. An interesting subject, Moe. It caused me to do a search and Google didn’t let me down. From a NYT column about retired president Harry Truman:

    ONE hot June morning in 1953, a retired couple from western Missouri packed their Chrysler New Yorker with 11 suitcases and started driving east. A few hours later, they stopped at a diner in Hannibal, Mo., and ordered fruit plates and iced tea.

    “We thought we were getting by big as an unknown traveling couple until we went to the counter to pay the bill,” Harry Truman later wrote of that lunch. “Just as we arose from the table some county judges came in and the incog was off.”

    What made Truman, less than six months removed from the presidency, believe he could travel incognito in the first place? It’s true that former presidents quickly drop from public consciousness. (Did you know that George W. Bush is preparing to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener? Or that Bill Clinton gave a speech to the European Union Parliament in Brussels last week — in the shadow of President Obama’s celebrated European tour?) But they remain famous, and surrounded by assistants and security agents.

    In Truman’s time, things were quite different. When he retired, 10 years before the Kennedy assassination, former presidents had no Secret Service protection. Nor were they entitled to pensions. Truman’s only income was an Army pension of $111.96 a month, and he refused to “commercialize” the presidency by accepting lucrative business offers or extravagant speaking fees. Like his hero Cincinnatus, the Roman leader who forsook power to return to his farm, Truman believed he could easily make the transition from leader of the free world to, as he put it, “plain, private citizen.”

    Of course, there was no internet in Harry and Bess’s time, no YouTube, no tweets, but in the article’s 1953 scene one can see the thirst for celebrity gossip burgeoning. All it lacked were the venues and now they’re here.

    As for the cost, I used to fret over such things as well, including political pork, but having read about it I now realize that those things are small potatoes compared with real appropriations. For the Secret Service, we’re talking millions but just consider that a single F-22 fighter costs $150 million and a single Zumwalt class destroyer is projected at $3.45 billion (that’s 3,450 millions of dollars). In comparison, I submit that we taxpayers are getting good value for our Secret Service operations: continuity of leadership, elimination of safety distractions, and a show of prestige to the world that rivals that feckless British governmental appendage, royalty.

    For those fond of nostalgia I recommend the rest of the NYT article – it makes interesting reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/opinion/05algeo.html?_r=0


  4. Good piece Jim…..

    That WAS back in the day……
    These are different times…..
    But I agree indeed that part of this IS prestige…..

    But I submit….
    No ONE wants to lose a President on their watch…
    So they’ll do CYA……

    That said…..
    I’ll bet that former/current President’s would give a YEAR’S salery to do what Truman did…..


  5. This weekend the citizens of Perth are experiencing a huge security operation as 400 Defence Force personnel are deployed to protect leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. As the world knows, the US President doesn’t travel light when he makes an overseas trip.


  6. Well since Reagan no POTUS has been injured by a crazy. That’s success of a sort I suppose.


    • It certainly was ramped up again bruce – we do it every time someone takes a shot at a prez (JFK, Ford, Reagan, Clinton) but it keeps happening every ten years or so.


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