Michelle Obama today faced a fresh wave of attacks over her lavish break in Spain with 40 friends, which could easily cost U.S. taxpayers a staggering £50,000 a day.
The First Lady has been lambasted for her extravagance at a time when the economy is still struggling. One blogger went so far as to brand her a modern-day Marie Antoinette.
And her critics will be further annoyed when they learn that the president’s wife had a Spanish beach closed off today so that she, her daughter and their entourage could go for a swim.
Spanish police cleared off a stretch of beach at the Villa Padierna Hotel in Marbella after the Obamas had finished a busy day of sightseeing.
Police used palm trees and police tape to mark off the boundaries of a 100-yard expanse for the American delegation. On either side, onlookers gawked – and police occasionally stopped and searched sun lovers if they strayed too close to the private party.
It is unclear whether the police presence was paid for by Spain – or whether a nasty invoice could be landing in the lap of the American taxpayer.
The exact cost of the trip is unclear as Mrs Obama, 46, and her friends are footing personal expenses themselves – which is just as well.
For a start, they will be paying for the 60 rooms booked at the 129-room Hotel Villa Padierna. With basic rooms starting around £380 each, the nightly bill will be no less than £22,800.
Meals will also be picked up by the Obamas and friends.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo detailed the Obamas’ dinner on their first night in Spain. The tapas menu for the delegation included sea bass tartare, strawberry gazpacho and sardines, followed by a main course of lobster with seaweed risotto.
The meal cost about £40 a head, according to El Mundo – which means a bill topping £1,600 would have hit the table if all 40 friends dined together.
Stretched over five nights that’s £8,000 for dinner alone.
Whether or not the taxpaying American will be paying for meals, they will definitely be footing the bill for the First Lady’s 68-strong security detail, her personal staff – and the use of presidential jet Air Force Two.
The per diems for the secret service team runs at around £172 each, which amounts to nearly £60,000 for the length of the summer break.
Use of Air Force Two, the Air Force version of a 757, comes in at £91,900 for the round trip. This does not include time on the ground.
Mrs Obama’s personal staff, of which there are an unknown amount and who might cost considerably more per day, also have to be taken into account.
The American public will also cover the cost of the only official part of the holiday, a visit to the Spanish royal family on the island of Majorca.
This will involve transport there and back for the entourage – as well as travel, accommodation, food and expenses for all while on the island.
Conservative estimates already put the total cost at £150,000. With Majorca to come, the bill will be more like £250,000.
Back in the U.S., anger was mounting – especially as it has emerged the First Lady will have enjoyed eight holidays by the end of the summer.
These include a trip to Los Angeles in June, a visit to the Florida’s oil-hit Gulf Coast next weekend and a ten-day trip to Martha’s Vineyard later this month.
White House press secretary Robin Gibbs was asked at a briefing if there were any concerns about how the visit was being viewed by the public.
‘The First Lady is on a private trip,’ he said. ‘She is a private citizen and is the mother of a daughter on a private trip. I think I’d leave it at that.’
Yesterday New York Daily News columnist and blogger Andrea Tantaros likened the President’s wife to French queen Marie Antoinette, who was famously extravagant with her spending.
Tantaros wrote: ‘To be clear, what the Obamas do with their money is one thing; what they do with ours is another. Transporting and housing the estimated 70 Secret Service agents who will flank the material girl will cost the taxpayers a pretty penny.’
She accused the Obamas of hypocrisy for preaching the values of sacrifice and austerity to Americans while seemingly refusing to heed their own advice.
She said: ‘Instead, Michelle Obama seems more like a modern-day Marie Antoinette… than an average mother of two.’
She added: ‘I don’t begrudge anyone rest and relaxation when they work hard. We all need downtime – the First Family included.
‘It’s the extravagance of Michelle Obama’s trip and glitzy destination contrasted with President Obama’s demonisation of the rich that smacks of hypocrisy and perpetuates a disconnect between the country and its leaders’
Mrs Obama, who has been accompanied by her youngest daughter, Saha, nine, spent yesterday in the historic city of Granada.
She visited the spectacular Alhambra Palace, the 16th century cathedral and the pretty Albaicin neighbourhood, famous for its narrow winding streets and small squares
A crowd of several hundred people shouted ‘Obama!’ and ‘guapa!’ (beautiful) as the Obamas entered the cathedral with a large security detail in tow.
The party also had time for ice cream in the main street Gran Via.
Mrs Obama later attended a flamenco performance by Juan Andres Maya where other members of the audience were delighted when she tried out some dance moves at the end.
Private citizen: Mrs Obama (seen here in Granada) is paying all personal expenses herself. Her security detail and transport are paid for by the U.S. taxpayer
Earlier in the week, Mrs Obama had strolled around the shop’s of Marbella’s old town with daughter Sasha in tow.
The First Lady was surrounded by burly Secret Service agents as hundreds of locals sought to catch a glimpse of her in the Costa del Sol resort.
Wearing black trousers, a black and white top and dark sunglasses, the 46-year-old walked through Marbella’s cobbled streets, nipping into a number of shops before having dinner in an Andalusian restaurant.
Mrs Obama arrived by plane at Malaga airport yesterday/on Wednesday morning and was driven in a 14-car convoy to the five star Hotel Villa Padierna, where her entourage has reserved 60 of the 129 rooms.
She told owner Ricardo Arranz she had come to ‘relax and unwind’.
The hotel is nestled in the hills overlooking Marbella, and at 6.30pm she and nine-year-old Sasha were driven to the historic centre for their shopping trip.
Locals and British expats and holidaymakers crammed the streets or leaned out from balconies to get the best shot of the First Lady on their cameras. Some even climbed orange trees to get a better look.
Mrs Obama bought two white Egyptian cotton dresses for 84 euros (70 pounds) from a shop called Blanc du Nil after asking shopkeeper Irene Aivar for advice on styles and sizes.
She then took a business card from another shop called Samira, which sells silverware and crafts, before heading to a restaurant for dinner at 8pm.
They had a reservation for 14 people at the Buenaventura Plaza restaurant, reportedly eating lobster with rice and oysters followed by a Spanish bread pudding called torrijas.
President Barack Obama, who turned 49 on Wednesday, is not expected to join them in Spain, and oldest daughter Malia, 12, is at a summer camp in the US.
Reports in Spain said Mr Obama telephoned his wife at the restaurant, and she sang him Happy Birthday down the phone.
The party enjoyed red wine with the main course and a local sweet white wine with dessert before retiring to the hotel at 10pm.