President Donald Trump does not plan to use Air Force One during his political rally Saturday in Melbourne, Florida, the White House announced Thursday.
While the president does plan to fly to the event in the presidential aircraft, the Washington Post is reporting that the plane will “not [be] used in the background as a prop” — something Trump frequently did with his own private airliner during the campaign.
From the Post:
During the campaign, Trump’s most theatrical rallies were those held in airplane hangars. As his personal Boeing 757 approached the airport, the theme song from the 1997 movie “Air Force One” would play. “Trump Force One” would usually swoop past once, if not twice, before landing and taxiing to the hangar. The door would open, Trump would emerge, descend a staircase, bound onto the stage and give a campaign speech against the backdrop of his luxury liner.
After Trump tweeted news of his event, questions emerged about the aircraft he would use during the event.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Some legal experts said, according to the Post, that using Air Force One for the rally would present a legal problem for the commander in chief, given he is not permitted to use government resources for political campaign events.
Because of security, Trump is required to fly to the event in Air Force One — traveling commercial is not an option for the president — but the Republican Party or the campaign is expected to reimburse the government for the cost of the travel. And Richard Painter, a former chief White House ethics lawyer, agreed with the Trump administration’s plan. He said there should be some distance between Trump and the taxpayer-funded aircraft during his speech.
“They can do all of the theatrics, but when he gives the speech, the plane should be to the side,” he told the Post.
Going back to the election, when Trump was battling then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the use of Air Force One became something of a controversy.
In July, Clinton benefitted from a flight aboard the presidential plane when she was joined by then-President Barack Obama on the campaign trail. Clinton and Obama traveled to North Carolina together, where they held events rallying Democratic voters.
Trump, of course, was not happy with that, and he took to Twitter to air his grievances.
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 Clinton campaign, according to CNBC, reimbursed the government for the Air Force One ride. The Democratic candidate’s August Federal Election Commission filings showed it paid $36,602.99 for the lift, covering only Clinton’s portion of the cost.
It costs taxpayers $206,337 every hour Air Force One is in flight, according to a Freedom of Information Act letter obtained by government watchdog Judicial Watch.
With such a high cost and ethical questions surrounding the president’s use of Air Force One, some are wondering why Trump is choosing to classify his Florida event as a campaign event instead of just a presidential speech.
According to Larry Noble, general counsel for the nonpartisan ethics watchdog the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, holding a presidential speech would come with far less regulations, but Trump would have much less control over how the event is carried out.
Most presidents, the Post noted, wait a while before they launch re-election campaigns — former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama waited two years before filing for re-election.
Trump, however, filed for re-election the same day his first term in the Oval Office began: Inauguration Day.