Q: Is President Obama's trip to India going to cost $200 million per day?
A: This highly doubtful claim originated with one Indian news agency quoting an anonymous source in Mumbai. The White House says it is "wildly exaggerated," and there's no evidence to support such a huge figure.
There are reports all over that Obama's India trip will cost $200 million per day. I haven't been able to find a credible rebuttal to this, but I can't believe it could be true.
This story has spread rapidly among the president's critics, but there is simply no evidence to support it. And common sense should lead anyone to doubt it. For example, the entire U.S. war effort in Afghanistan currently costs less than that — about $5.7 billion per month, according to the Congressional Research Service, or roughly $190 million per day. How could a peaceful state visit cost more than a war?
What else can you get for $200 million? Try the New Jersey Nets basketball team or possibly the Hope diamond — if only the Smithsonian were selling it.
The hard-to-swallow claim originated with a Nov. 2 Press Trust of India article quoting an unnamed "top official" in the government of Maharashtra (one of India's states). The source was quoted as saying that Obama's upcoming trip to Mumbai will cost $200 million per day for security and living arrangements, among other things. The story claimed that the president would be accompanied by about 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents, government officials and journalists, and will stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel — the scene of a 2008 terrorist attack.
We find stories based on anonymous sources always deserve special caution, especially when they come from only one news organization. In this case, the anonymous official is not even in the U.S. government, and any information about costs would necessarily have come second-hand at best, an added reason for caution.
Nevertheless, the story was widely repeated without any additional reporting. Soon after the article was released, The Drudge Report — a news aggregation website — linked to the Press Trust of India article, with the headline "REPORT: US to spend $200 million per day on Obama's Mumbai visit …" Later that day, Rush Limbaugh claimed on his radio show that "Five hundred seven rooms at the Taj Mahal, 40 airplanes, $200 million a day this nation will spend on Obama's trip to India." He repeats the "$200 million a day" claim several times throughout the show without specifying its source.
The allegation has generated a great deal of Internet discourse over the past few days, including a Washington Times post that claims Obama's entourage on the trip "will spend enough to bankrupt a small nation." According to the Economic Times and The Daily Mail, Obama will take over the entire 570-room Taj Mahal Hotel for the trip. A Google search for the exact words of the original Press Trust article returned about 11,000 results. And we received about two dozen queries about it.
The White House is always reluctant to discuss cost figures about presidential trips, since the bulk of the expense is for Secret Service security. Not this time. The White House press office, which said it had been flooded with queries, gave us the following statement:
Matt Lehrich, White House Office of Media Affairs: The numbers reported in this article have no basis in reality. 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.
It is always costly to move a U.S. president around the world. And in this case, the president is attending a G-20 meeting and will be accompanied by several cabinet officials. But given the dubious source of this assertion, the fact that the claimed cost exceeds the cost of a war, the flat denial by the White House and the lack of any evidence to support the claim, we'll classify this one as false.
-- By Lara Seligman
For sources for this story, visit FactCheck.org.