President donates first-quarter pay to National Park Service
President Donald Trump has found a recipient for his presidential salary -- at least the portion he earned between January 20 and March 31, 2017.
At the White House press briefing on April 3, press secretary Sean Spicer announced that Trump would be donating his full first-quarter, pre-tax earnings of $78,333 to the National Park Service.
"The President has spoken with counsel and made the decision to donate his first-quarter salary, in total, to a government entity, and he has chosen this quarter to donate it to the National Park Service," Spicer said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was at the podium to accept a check for that amount.
"I am thrilled at the President's decision to donate the check he did today," Zinke said. He said the agency will use it to support "the infrastructure on our nation's battlefields. We're about $100 (million) or $229 million behind in deferred maintenance on our battlefields alone, and that's on our 25 national battlefields. And we're excited about that opportunity."
This gesture is consistent with the pledge the billionaire businessman made during the campaign -- that "if I'm elected president, I'm accepting no salary." However, we are not yet rating this a Promise Kept until it becomes clear that this is going to become a permanent policy while he's in office.
For now, we rate the promise In the Works.
White House, press briefing by Sean Spicer, April 3, 2017
Reuters, "Trump donates first-quarter salary to National Park Service," April 3, 2017
Trump's staff is trying to figure out logistics of presidential pay
The government owes Donald Trump.
Right about now, the 45th president is due to receive his first paycheck, part of a $400,000 annual salary delivered in monthly installments.
But the billionaire said during the campaign that he wouldn't take the pay. Is he backsliding on a promise?
The White House says no, but things are more complicated.
"He is required to get a paycheck but will be giving it back to (the) treasury or donating," spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in email, adding that the staff was trying to determine the legal process to do so.
She declined to answer several inquiries into whether Trump has gotten a paycheck already, which would be about $33,333. In addition to the $400,000, a president is afforded a $50,000 expense account.
"I won't take even one dollar," Trump declared in September 2015. "I am totally giving up my salary if I become president."
He can't do that. Article II of the Constitution requires a president to be paid:
"The President shall, at stated times, receive for his services, a compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them."
So Trump tweaked his promise. He now says he'll accept $1 — and it has added to his populist appeal.
Trump supporters say the move deserves more attention especially now as his travel costs have dominated headlines. Trump's visits to his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, have cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million already.
Trump wouldn't be the first president to give away his pay. John F. Kennedy, also a wealthy man when he took office, donated his to charity. Herbert Hoover, also rich, gave his away as well. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire, eschewed the $130,000 salary.
In a way, Trump is like George Washington. The nation's first president said he would not take pay for the job, just as he had as commander of the Continental Army.
"When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation," Washington said in his inaugural address of 1789. "From this resolution I have in no instance departed."
But Congress pointed to a higher power: the Constitution.
We'll be monitoring what happens with Trump's efforts not to take a salary. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.
Tampa Bay Times, As Trump is learning, it's not so easy to reject the president's paycheck, Feb. 24, 2016
He might have to take $1
The president of the United States stands to make $400,000 every year, but Donald Trump wants none of it.
"As far as salary is concerned, I won't take even one dollar," Trump said in a Q&A Twitter session in September 2015. "I am totally giving up my salary if I become president."
Trump reiterated this pledge as president-elect more than a year later on Nov. 13, 2016, when he told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl he still wouldn't take the salary.
"I think I have to by law take $1, so I'll take $1 a year," Trump said. "But it's a ― I don't even know what it is. Do you know what the salary is?"
"$400,000 you're giving up," Stahl said.
"No, I'm not gonna take the salary," Trump responded. "I'm not taking it."
WHY HE'S PROMISING IT
Discussions about the president's salary trace back as far as 1789.
According to congressional records, George Washington initially declined his $25,000 salary, but Congress refused to comply. Congress didn't do this for the president's benefit, but did so to encourage financial independence and prevent the president from being bribed by outside incentives.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
Trump has a few options if he chooses to decline his salary.
He could donate his salary like past presidents or he could give his salary back to the U.S. Department of Treasury, said Michael McConnell, the director of Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University.
Whether he could flat-out reject his salary or just take $1 is a complicated question.
Article II, Sec. 1, Clause 7 of the Constitution prescribes a president be paid compensation "which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States, or any of them."
WHAT'S STANDING IN HIS WAY
As of September 2016, Forbes estimated Trump's worth at about $3.7 billion, meaning Trump could definitely afford to forgo his salary.
The only other problem that could come up is if Trump tries to flat-out reject the salary. There has been no precedent for this, so experts are uncertain whether he is legally obligated to take his salary.
Opposing views, video from Sept. 17, 2015