President Trump will be off to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, again this weekend and the Coast Guard will be ready.
As it has for every visit, the service will protect the waterfront of Trump estate from any potential hazards or intrusions, dispatching helicopters, patrol boats and anti-terrorism teams for 24-hour surveillance. It also sets up three “security zones” along the Palm Beach shorelines and at nearby Lake Worth Lagoon.
It’s a challenging assignment, not just because the property has waterfront on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, but because it’s an expensive assignment for an agency that is already stretched by its heavy load of responsibilities and its tight budget.
Not surprisingly, the Coast Guard provides all this protection without a dime of extra cash, Adm. Paul Zukunft, Coast Guard Commandant, told reporters this week.
“Is there a supplemental to support this?” the commandant said. “The answer is no.”
As reported in a story Thursday in the Washington Post, Zukunft said at a breakfast with journalists that three anti-terrorism teams assisted in protecting the estate when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met there last week. These Maritime Safety and Security units normally perform port safety patrols and are trained to respond to chemical, biological or radiological attacks.
According to a review by the newspaper, Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago 21 days since taking office in January, necessitating a sophisticated security logistic by many federal agencies including the Coast Guard. Given estimates of previous presidential trips and reviews of security costs, the newspaper said that Trump’s continued travel to Florida could “drive up the price tag for Coast Guard support at the estate into the tens of millions of dollars over a four-year term.”
The details: An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, mostly used in air patrols like those over Mar-a-Lago, costs $7,533 an hour, or about $180,000 a day. An RB-S Defender-class response boat patrolling near the state costs $1,434 an hour to run, about $34,400 a day, the Post reports.
In 2013 when President Obama went to South Florida for a weekend, the Coast Guard spent about $486,000 to patrol the waterways and pay for official travel and lodging, according to a General Accountability Office report quoted by the newspaper.
Ironically, just a month ago, the Trump administration’s draft budget wanted to cut the Coast Guard’s funding by 14% (about $1.3 billion), supposedly to help finance increases in border security, most notably the famous border wall. But after an outcry from Congress and others, there was a pullback and the final document instead offered up a flat budget for the agency. Congress will eventually have the final say on that one.
As his travel patterns unfold, it seems that President Trump is spending much more time at the Florida estate than previous presidents did at their vacation homes. In fact, the president has shown no interest so far in relaxing or receiving heads of state at the mountain retreat of Camp David in Maryland, as previous presidents traditionally have done, and where there’s already a well-established security apparatus and no waterfront to patrol.
Makes you wonder whether Mr. Trump should be contributing some of his vast wealth to finance the huge costs of protecting his homes in both Florida and New York. It would be an unprecedented move, for sure, but he has already signaled that he will be operating an unprecedented presidency. He certainly has the resources to do so.