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White House: Asian trip cost Bachmann cited has ‘no basis in reality’

The White House pushed back hard Thursday against a claim repeated by Rep. Michele Bachmann that President Obama’s 10-day trip to Asia would cost taxpayers an astounding $200 million per day.

WASHINGTON — The White House pushed back hard Thursday against a claim repeated by Rep. Michele Bachmann that President Obama’s 10-day trip to Asia would cost taxpayers an astounding $200 million per day.

Bachmann made the claim in a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper, repeating a number that originally appeared in an Indian press account attributed to an anonymous state government source in India. Cooper had asked about cuts Bachmann might be willing to make, to which she replied:

Well I think we know that just within a day or so the President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking two thousand people with him. He’ll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are 5-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending, it’s a very small example, Anderson.

View the full exchange here.

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Bachmann wasn’t the only conservative to repeat the claim. The Drudge Report ran with it in a banner headline, and it was cited on air by conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. And all that outrage prompted some outrage from the White House in response.

“The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality,” said White House spokesman Matthew Lehrich. “Due to security concerns, we are unable to outline details associated with security procedures and costs, but it’s safe to say these numbers are wildly inflated.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon took steps to dismiss both that report and a separate one (also in the Indian press) that said the Navy would be deploying some 34 ships in support of the president’s trip.

Said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell:

“I think there’s been a lot of creative writing that’s been done on this trip over the last few days. I’ve seen other reports with some astronomical figures in terms of what it costs to take these trips.”

“I don’t know the cost. We don’t speak to the cost. We obviously have some support role for presidential travel. We don’t speak to that in detail for security reasons. But I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy — some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier — in support of the president’s trip to Asia.”

“That’s just comical.  Nothing close to that is being done.”

Bachmann spokesman Sergio Gor said the numbers Bachmann cited weren’t her own, they were from press reports. “She cited a press article,” Gor said. “It’s not like they released the numbers, so all we have to go by is the press.”

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While the White House isn’t releasing figures, spokesman Robert Gibbs said today that the costs are “comparable” to when Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush traveled abroad. And that statement provides a bit of a ballpark figure.

Clinton’s 12-day trip to Africa in 1998, widely reported at the time as the most expensive foreign presidential trip ever, cost $42.8 million dollars, according to an audit by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Divide the cost by 12 days and the trip averaged a little more than $3.5 million a day. Adjusted for inflation, that comes to around $4.6 million in today’s dollars.

It’s quite a sum of money, but remember that the president essentially flies a mobile White House with him so he can run the country at all times. Advance staff, security, Air Force One on constant standby, a military contingent, Whtie House advisers, diplomats and multiple Air Force jets that ferry over the Marine One helicopter and vehicles that will carry the president as he travels.

And he’ll have representatives from most of the major national media outlets, though they’ll be paying their own way. According to CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller, media outlets will be billed about $20,000 for each journalist they send.

It’s a massive operation, to be sure. And exact figures aren’t available. But $200 million a day isn’t “comparable” to $4.6 million a day. Because of all that, PolitiFact and others rated Bachmann’s statement false. The numbers just don’t add up.