Don’t be fooled by Trump’s National Park Service photo-op

Sean Spicer made a big show of handing over the president’s salary, but his budget slashes the Department of the Interior by 12 percent.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, right, holds up a check during the daily briefing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, and Harpers Ferry National Historic Park Superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
White House press secretary Sean Spicer, right, holds up a check during the daily briefing with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, and Harpers Ferry National Historic Park Superintendent Tyrone Brandyburg. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Donald Trump, whose budget proposal would slash the Department of the Interior budget by $1.6 billion, would like to be congratulated for donating his first quarter presidential salary of $78,333 to the National Park Service.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced the donation at his Monday press conference, where he handed a physical check on-screen to Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and a National Park Service officer.

Pressed by reporters later in the conference, Spicer lashed out at questions about the cost of the president’s frequent visits to his resort at Mar-a-Lago. Trump has spent seven of his weekends since inauguration at the Florida resort. Estimates peg the taxpayer cost of each trip at over $3 million.

“This is a day the president just donated a significant amount of money of his salary to the federal government. So respectfully, it’s — at what point does he do enough?” Spicer said during Monday’s briefing. “I think to be able to say — he isn’t taking a salary, he’s stepped down from his business, he’s walked away from a lot. I think — at some point he’s done quite a bit in terms of making a donation to the government.”

Trump hasn’t stepped down from his business in any meaningful way. He has handed day-to-day management of his vast empire to his sons; however, profits from the business are funneled into a revocable trust that he can access at any time. Eric Trump, one of his father’s trustees and managers of his business, told Forbes that he might give his father profitability reports as often as every quarter, directly contradicting any illusion of separation.

And as far as his donation, it falls well short of the cuts Trump himself would impose on the National Park Service’s supervising agency, the Interior Department.

Trump’s budget calls for a punishing 12 percent cut to the department, which manages the United States’ public lands. It would eliminate some of the department’s programs altogether, including the $13.2 million National Wildlife Refuge Fund and the $20 million funding for the nation’s 49 National Heritage Areas. It would also decrease funding for land acquisition — such as land that would be added to the nation’s national parks, and then stewarded by the NPS — by $120 million.

Zinke, in his remarks thanking the president, said he would put the money towards the department’s $229 million shortfall in maintenance of the United States’ historic battlefields. According to Spicer, Trump chose to give the money to the NPS himself, specifically because he was interested in restoring the battlegrounds.

“It’s a decision he made. Counsel presented him with several options. He believed… some great work is being done there, especially work being done to restore our great battlegrounds,” Spicer said.

The shortfall at battleground parks, however, is just a small part of the maintenance backlog at National Parks. At his confirmation hearing, Zinke said that reducing the $12.5 billion backlog in maintenance and operations at the National Parks writ large was one of his and the president’s top priorities.

When it came time for the president to follow through, however, Trump slashed the Department of the Interior, along with all programs having anything to do with combating or studying climate change, in favor of a massive hike to military spending.

Congress, ultimately, has final control over the federal budget. The president’s budget proposal, however, is a starting point for congressional negotiations as well as a statement of priorities — and Trump’s indicates that the National Park Service and the nation’s public lands are actually quite far down on his list.