Christmas vacation: Obamas get trip to Hawaii, taxpayers get ‘jelly-of-the-month’ club

FAMILY TRADITION: Since first winning the White House in 2008, the first family has vacationed in President Obama’s native Hawaii during the Christmas season. AP file photo
FAMILY TRADITION: Since first winning the White House in 2008, the first family has vacationed in President Obama’s native Hawaii during the Christmas season. AP file photo

The presidential family will soon be vacationing in Hawaii.

It’s a holiday tradition for the Obamas, who have visited Kailua each year since 2008. The president and his friends pay rent for the 17-day trip, about $25,000 per week.

Taxpayers pay for most everything else, about $4 million, based on what we know.

Just call it another holiday tradition, of sorts, one that Clark W. Griswold would surely appreciate. The Obamas get a bonus while taxpayers get the bill, akin to an annual membership in the metaphoric jelly-of-the-month club.

It breaks down like this:

The 18-hour roundtrip aboard Air Force One costs $179,750 per hour for flight and operations — $3,235,500 total, estimates Michael Tasselmyer of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation,

Hawaii 1
RELAX: View from the Moana Surfrider Hotel in Waikiki where the White House staff stays while the first family is in Hawaii.

A Congressional Research Service report released in May 2012 mirrors those estimates. The cost for a C-17 jet carrying presidential limos, helicopters and other support equipment to Hawaii has never been disclosed. But the roundtrip flight time from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and Hawaii is 21.5 hours, with estimated operating costs of $12,000 per hour, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

The U.S. Marine Corps provides a presidential helicopter, along with pilots and support crews for the test flights, which travel on another C-17. That costs $258,000, not including per diem and hotel for the four- to six-member crew. U.S. Secret Service, Navy Seals and Coast Guard members rent homes along the canal and ocean for $250 per room per night, according to people who rent the houses.

A real estate source said the delegation, which arrives before the president, rents at least seven homes in the area, costing taxpayers more than $183,750.

White House staff who don’t stay in Kailua stay at the posh Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa on Waikiki Beach. Hotel rooms typically rent for $670 a night, but the hotel offers discounted government rates for about $255, according to hotel public relations manager Diana Su.

The Air Force flies in 22 vehicles so the president can golf, attend a basketball game with friends at Punahou School —Obama’s alma mater — or visit favorite restaurants such as Nobu’s and Buzz’s Steakhouse. Honolulu Police on special duty are paid $250,000 — another $10,000 is spent on an around-the-clock ambulance detail.

The White House annually refuses to disclose the cost of several things, citing security. Such as:

An entire floor of an office building in Kailua on the canal during the president’s stay.

Security upgrades, such as bulletproof glass and additional phone lines added to private homes; existing security systems are disabled.

Rental cars and fuel for staff and security, as well as additional costs for Secret Service and White House staff traveling ahead of the president.

Because of emergency budget negotiations last year, the president made two round trips from Washington, D.C., to Hawaii, nearly doubling the cost of the vacation — more than $7.2 million.

Judicial Watch in May sued the Secret Service to “obtain records concerning use of U.S. Government funds to provide security and any other services to President Obama and any companions on their January 1 and 2, 2013, trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.”

The case, Judicial Watch v. U.S. Secret Service, continues, but there is nothing new, Judicial Watch spokeswoman Jill Farrell said this week.

The lawsuit, based on a Hawaii Reporter and report that detailed the cost of the 2012 Christmas vacation, was filed after the Secret Service failed to provide information to Judicial Watch in response to a Jan. 2 Freedom of Information Act request.

“As of May 6, the Secret Service had yet to produce any record,” Judicial Watch said in a May 2013 statement.

Contact Malia Zimmerman at [email protected]

Published with permission from


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