President Barack Obama, who will hit the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton for the first time this week, will give the presumptive Democratic nominee a lift on Air Force One Tuesday when they fly to North Carolina for a joint campaign appearance.
The flight, a powerful representation of the presidency, appears to be a gift Obama is more than happy to offer to his preferred candidate for the White House. But Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, isn’t nearly as happy with the president’s offering.
“Why is President Obama allowed to use Air Force One on the campaign trail with Crooked Hillary?” Trump posted to Twitter Monday evening. “She is flying with him tomorrow. Who pays?”
Why is President Obama allowed to use Air Force One on the campaign trail with Crooked Hillary? She is flying with him tomorrow. Who pays?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2016
The inquiry isn’t anything new. It’s a question presidential hopefuls have asked of their incumbent rivals for years and the answer isn’t cut and dry.
The cost of flying on Air Force One for political reasons is split right down the middle — between the federal government, using taxpayer dollars, and the candidate’s political organization. Since the president is traveling to Charlotte solely for a campaign stop, Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee will be required to pay at least a portion of the bill, regardless of whether the former secretary of state is on the plane.
But how exactly that breaks down isn’t really clear.
When Obama was running for re-election in 2012, his campaign reimbursed the government millions of dollars — based on a pro-rated share of an equivalent-sized charter plane — for Air Force One travel.
Campaigns are required to reimburse travel fees not only for their candidates but also anyone who is traveling on behalf of the candidates. But other passengers, including security details and medical staff, are not required to repay the government for their travel costs.
Regardless of what Clinton actually ends up paying, though, it’s much less than the realistic cost of traveling on the presidential airliner, which is customized to include secure communication and state-of-the-art navigation equipment and costs more than $200,000 per hour to operate.
From White House official on who pays for Clinton trip pic.twitter.com/PZJIiQcEQv
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 4, 2016
Neither former Presidents Bill Clinton or George W. Bush did much campaigning in their final years in office, according to CNN, but Obama is expected, however, to campaign frequently for Clinton, which means the Democrats will be forced to pay for at least some of the commander in chief’s travel in his remaining months in the White House.
Obama could lessen some of the cost by choosing to align his official travel — which is funded for by the taxpayers — with campaign travel, when possible. But the breakdown between campaign and official travel costs has been kept confidential in White Houses all the way back to the 1970s.
Additionally, Obama often mixes politics with official business, as he has been unafraid to go after the presumptive Republican presidential nominee while speaking in his capacity as president.