Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann has been ridiculed for alleging that President Obama’s trip to India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan is costing $200 million a day or roughly the same cost of waging war in Afghanistan. It has long been the White House’s official policy not to talk about what it costs for a president to travel, but Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, participated in a podcast from the White House to address some other questions about President Obama’s trip to Asia.
Blast asked him to describe the “logistical challenges of the President spending a few days on the other side of the globe” and here’s how he answered:
Well, it’s an interesting question. There’s an extraordinary amount of work that goes into planning and executing any presidential trip. You have the advance teams that go out and look at the different sites that the president will be visiting. You have the embassy or your consulate on the ground that is coordinating those stops. And you, of course, have our staff here at the White House and the State Department working to plan the president’s trip.
Part of it is simply the traveling staff of the President and the delegation traveling with the president. For instance, in India we have a large delegation. We have several cabinet secretaries going, and a number of other officials. We have a large delegation there, and we have a large delegation, obviously, related to the G20 Summit. That adds, of course, people to “the footprint.”
But at the end of the day, the biggest presence that the United States has is related to the security of the President. Now that’s not a decision made by us here at the White House. That’s entirely left up to the Secret Service. So we basically take their cue in terms of what it takes for them to secure a presidential visit and stops and that includes everything from the security around the hotel to the President’s motorcades. That’s a question that is handled by the secret service.
In terms of moving the President around, he’ll obviously travel on Air Force One the entire trip. There’s usually a support plane associated with this kind of travel for additional staff and others. So there’s a lot that goes into it. A lot of planning, a lot of different components of the US Government.
At the end of the day, we still try to structure the trips in a way in which the President can interact with not just heads of state and heads of government, but ordinary people along the course of his visits. I think we’ve managed to do that with each of these stops. In India he’ll speak to hotel staff at The Taj at the beginning of his trip about the terrible attack of 26/11 Mumbai . He’ll speak with entrepreneurs and business people at a business summit. The next day he’ll visit a school, see some children who will be able to report to him the kinds of work that they’re doing in their school. He’ll have a town hall with university students. And then on throughout the trip.
In Indonesia, we’re going to make sure he can speak to a large crowd of Indonesians, getting the enthusiasm that we know exists throughout Indonesia for this particular President having spent some time growing up in Indonesia. We try to–even as we have to carry an official delegation and have appropriate security–we try to have the President have the opportunity to engage local communities and ordinary people along the route of his foreign travel.
Frankly that’s often the parts of the trips that the President enjoys the most. He enjoys interacting with people from different countries around the world. He enjoys interacting with young people in particular. You’ll have noticed if you follow our foreign travel over the course of the last two years, we often do town halls, round tables, student events, so that he’s speaking to young people in these countries as well.
That’s the balance we try to strike. A good and successful trip is one that allows us to do a lot of official business, but also to reach out beyond the halls of government to again engage with peoples from different countries.
The response was edited for length.