Multiple Homes Mean More Costly Protection For Presidents
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump spends many weekends in Mar-A-Lago. Melania Trump and their son still live in New York. The mounting cost of Secret Service protection has drawn some criticism. But as Madeline Fox of WLRN in Miami explains, this issue has come up in the past, and Congress tried to limit the expense of protecting the first family.
MADELINE FOX, BYLINE: President Trump was back at his private club, Mar-A-Lago, on a recent Friday. Traffic in Palm Beach had slowed to a crawl and a man in a bullet-proof Secret Service vest was directing traffic. Other agents at the club's parking lot were checking ID's against a list of approved names.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hi. Where you headed today?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Are you a vendor?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Press.
FOX: No. I'm press.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh, press. OK. Hold on.
FOX: Presidential visits anywhere are a logistical challenge. That comes with the territory, in this case, a particularly appealing territory.
PAUL GEORGE: The bottom line is that the good weather, the water and the fishing here have really brought a lot of presidents to the area.
FOX: That's Paul George, a former history professor. He can count off the presidents who have spent a lot of time in Florida.
GEORGE: Harding, Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Clinton, Trump.
FOX: But there's one who stands out.
GEORGE: The person who has the most indelible imprint here was Richard Nixon by far because of the winter White House.
FOX: That residents was in Key Biscayne, Fla. But Nixon wanted more, another house in California.
GEORGE: He bought the San Clemente house, but he still at that time owned the Key Biscayne house.
FOX: So the Secret Service had to set up security to protect that house, too.
JIM HELMINSKI: We have alarms, we have cybersecurity equipment, cameras, different types of sensors that will be put up without getting into specific details.
FOX: Jim Helminski is a former Secret Service agent who protected both Presidents Clinton and Bush. He says the cost of securing Nixon's second residence angered some in Congress. And that led to passage of the Presidential Protection Assistance Act in 1976.
HELMINSKI: Congress allowed for the Secret Service to provide protection for one nongovernmental residence for the protectee.
FOX: One home besides the White House with up to $10,000 worth of additional protection.
HELMINSKI: Since then it's gone up. But even at $200,000, that's still a relatively low number.
FOX: To spend more than $200,000, the Secret Service has to ask Congress for a bigger budget. And with the Trumps, the budget has to be a lot bigger. The president frequently comes to Mar-A-Lago and his wife lives in Trump Tower in New York. Both are places of business with workers, residents and guests, so they're expensive to protect. The Washington Post reported that it has seen confidential Secret Service documents showing the agency has requested $60 million in additional funds just for next year. University of Miami Law Professor Charlton Copeland says that, of course, the president must be protected.
CHARLTON COPELAND: I don't think that there's going to be anyone who says, why are we providing all this protection?
FOX: But in 1976, Congress clearly intended to hold down the cost for time spent away from the White House. But it also left some ambiguity because it says two people living together have to choose one residence. Here's the tricky part - Trump and the first lady mostly live apart. So maybe that gives them a way around the spending cap for a second residence.
COPELAND: Because both President Trump and the first lady could designate primary residences.
COPELAND: Ultimately, Congress has to decide how much to spend on the Trumps. For NPR News, I'm Madeline Fox in Miami.
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