As the campaign to replace him gets increasingly aggressive and nasty back home, President Barack Obama is getting out of town – embarking on a sort of farewell tour to the world.
Few criticize Obama for the trips, as some do when he goes on vacations or campaign-style trips that cost millions for the expense of operating the presidential plane – Air Force One – as well as helicopters, armored cars, Secret Service protection and staff.
$206,337Cost per hour of flying Air Force One
After all, it’s not unusual for presidents to engage in a flurry of global travel on their way out the door. It’s part of the race to add markers to the history books before time runs out Jan. 20.
“The final year is focused on legacy,” said Brendan J. Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy who tracks presidential trips. “International travel offers a chance to affirm his foreign policy legacy.”
Obama’s visit Wednesday to Canada is one of at least seven treks abroad this year. It’s a schedule that takes him out of the country almost once a month from March through November, when voters will pick his replacement.
In March, he became the first U.S. president in more than 80 years to visit Cuba, and he went on to Argentina on the same trip.
In April, Air Force One was bound for Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and Germany. In the U.K., his trip took on a wistful tone as he dined with the queen – his only British queen; her 12th U.S. president – toured the Globe Theatre and watched part of “Hamlet.” He made headlines for his impromptu play date with 2-year-old Prince George – along with a business visit with the now-outgoing prime minister.
On Wednesday, he’ll will travel to Ottawa for a one-day visit, where he will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as part of the North American Leaders’ Summit. He’ll also speak to a joint session of the Parliament of Canada.
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In July – as the presumptive Democratic and Republicans nominees for president prepare for their national conventions – Obama will head to Spain and Poland for a NATO summit.
August is blank. He and family usually vacation that month. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff gave Obama a “standing invitation” to come to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics in August, though it’s unlikely he will go now that the country is in political turmoil.
In September, as the general election campaign for president is in full force, he’ll go back to Asia, this time to China for a G-20 meeting and Laos for the East Asia Summit.
“He has a soft spot for Southeast Asia,” said Joshua Walker, a former State Department official who is now a fellow with the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Obama, who lived in Indonesia for several years as a child, will become the first sitting president ever to go to Southeast Asia twice in a year.
In November, he will go to Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
A lot of this travel is driven by business.
Aides say Obama is focused this year on finishing items on his foreign policy agenda, including implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, ratification of a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact and support for a global response to climate change.
Some of it is driven by sentiment.
Obama frequently tells people that his favorite part of the job is having his own plane. “People sometimes ask me what the biggest perk of being president is,” he said last year. “No. 1 is the plane.” But he has lamented that “my lease is running out.”
Not only is the specially equipped 747 an easy way to fly, it’s also very comfortable. Much more so than the 707 used until midway through George H.W. Bush’s presidency. “It’s much easier to travel now than it was back then,” said Ken Duberstein, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff in his second term.
Given the expected itinerary for the rest of his presidency, Obama will visit a total of 57 countries. Laos and Peru will add to the 55 he’s already visited, according to an analysis of records compiled by the White House.
All presidents in the modern era tend to get the itch to travel during the last year of their presidencies.
Bert Rockman, an expert in political leadership and professor emeritus of political science at Purdue University
That will leave him short of his predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Each of them visited 74 countries over their two terms, according to an analysis of records compiled by the State Department.
The totals notwithstanding, all the second-term presidents since Dwight Eisenhower have shared a common feeling: looking for ways at home and abroad to keep a hand on the presidency as the nation looks beyond them. That can be executive actions taken without having to grapple one last time with Congress, and it can be going abroad.
“What you do in the last year is pull it all together . . . to put a bow on their presidencies,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project and a retired professor of political science at Towson University. “Presidents are going to take advantage of what resources they have out there.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled Ottawa.
Greg Linch contributed to this article.
Presidential foreign travel
Number of countries visited:
Barack Obama: 55 (through June 28)
George W. Bush: 74 (through 8 years)
Bill Clinton: 74 (through 8 years)
Number of days spent on foreign trips:
Barack Obama: 181
George W. Bush: 216
Bill Clinton: 234
Sources: State Department, White House