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White House: Asia trip nowhere near $200 million a day

Cost estimates of President Obama's trip to 10-day Asia remain up in the air, but they certainly are nowhere near as high as the $200 million a day critics claim, the White House said Friday.
Image: U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Murphy at Ramstein in Germany
President Barack Obama greets U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy on the tarmac of Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday as Air Force One refuels en route to Mumbai, India.Jason Reed / Reuters
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Cost estimates of President Barack Obama's 10-day trip to Asia remain up in the air, but they certainly are nowhere near as high as the $200 million a day some conservative critics claim, the White House said Friday.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer blogged that the figures, first reported by Press Trust of India and spread by U.S. media, conservative pundits and GOP politicians, have "no basis in reality" and are "wildly inflated."

Pfeiffer also quoted a Pentagon spokesman, who rebutted the notion that 34 Navy warships would be used in the trip as "comical."

The president and first lady Michelle Obama boarded Air Force One on Friday to fly to Mumbai, India, first stop on a tour that will also take the president to Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.

Back in the states, debate about the trip's cost continued to swirl.

"Certainly an astounding figure, were it true," Pfeiffer wrote about the cost claims. "But it's not even close to true. This hasn't stopped some political opponents of the President including some elected officials from trafficking in this claim."

Pfeiffer said security concerns prevented officials from getting into "details associated with security procedures and costs, but it's safe to say these numbers are wildly inflated and President Obama's costs are in line with the costs of protecting previous Presidents. "

Pfeiffer quoted Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell about the warship claim:

"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."

The cost item became news when the Press Trust of India quoted "a top official of the Maharashtra Government privy to the arrangements for the high-profile visit."

"The huge amount of around $200 million would be spent on security, stay and other aspects of the Presidential visit," the news agency quoted the official as saying.

The agency also claimed the presidential entourage would include 3,000 Secret Service agents, U.S. government officials and journalists.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" this week that the trip "is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day." She said: "He's taking 2,000 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."

The Taj Mahal has only 560 rooms including 44 suites, according to its website.

The White House has not booked the entire hotel and the press, which won't be staying there, pays its own way, reported Jonathan Weisman in his The Wall Street Journal blog.

Weisman and other media also cited a report that $200 million a day would represent "the unbelievably staggering sum of $66,000 per person per day" for 3,000 people. He and others also cited a analysis noting the entire Afghanistan war alone costs roughly $190 million a day.

Television and radio show host Glenn Beck expanded on the Press Trust story, saying the president is spending $2 billion to see "the festival of lights" and questioning why Obama was even going.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh repeated the claim and asked, "Why is he leaving town and taking 3,000 people with him two days after the election, a trip which has been planned for months?"

Michigan-based columnist Doug Powers, writing a post on conservative journalist Michelle Malkin's site, said, "To put it in perspective, $200 million is enough money to buy a pair of Lanvin sneakers for over 370,000 Indians. The president’s 'carbon footprint felt ’round the world' tour will also utilize at least 40 aircraft, or as Al Gore calls it, 'Wednesday.'”

During the 10-day visit, the president is squeezing in some sightseeing, including a visit to the enormous Istiqlal Mosque in Indonesia, a Great Buddha statue in Japan and the Gandhi museum in Mumbai. He opted against visiting the famed Golden Temple Sikh holy site in India, though White House officials denied rumors that it was because he would have had to wear a head covering that could have stirred false speculation that he is a Muslim.

The BBC reported one security measure in Mumbai was true: All coconuts around the Gandhi museum were taken down.

"We told the authorities to remove the dry coconuts from trees near the building. Why take a chance?" Meghshyam Ajgaonkar, executive secretary of Mahatma Ghandi's home in Mumbai, told the BBC.