NORAH O'DONNELL (host): Yeah, exactly. You know, the president and Mrs. Obama took some time this weekend to enjoy dinner and a show in New York City. The first couple stopped traffic and turned heads in the Big Apple. And even though they made the trip on a smaller version of Air Force One, Republicans are pouncing -- criticizing, slamming the Obamas for putting on a show and winging it into the city for an evening out while another iconic American company prepares for bankruptcy. Those are the words at the RNC.
With me now live, Joe Conason, national correspondent for The New York Observer. All right, Joe -- cheap shot on the part of the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele?
CONASON: Well, you know, Norah, you have to wonder whether any of these people got exercised, for example, when President Bush spent something like 40 percent of his time at Camp David, Kennebunkport, and his ranch in Crawford. I don't know how much all of that travel cost the taxpayers, but nobody on the Democratic side said, "Oh, the president shouldn't be doing this" -- even though he was doing this before 9-11, during the war in Iraq.
I mean, this is -- I don't think anybody is really angry about this. I think this is, as you suggested, a cheap shot. And I -- you have to wonder whether the president would rather break a promise to his wife or suffer a cheap shot from the RNC. And I think that's a pretty easy choice, right?
O'DONNELL: Yeah, exactly. I think this man knows when he makes a promise to Michelle Obama, he should not break that promise. It's a good point.
CONASON: Everybody knows what the right thing to do is --
O'DONNELL: Yeah, everybody knows that.
CONASON: -- in those circumstances.
O'DONNELL: Joe, let me put up on the screen some of the instances of what it cost. The travel expense estimate -- $24,000. There were three planes: one for the Obamas, two for staff and reporters -- and, of course, reporters do have to reimburse the government for that expense -- two helicopters, the motorcade into New York City, and dinner costs and orchestra seat tickets were $96 apiece. But Obamas paid for their own dinner and for --
CONASON: Right. Right.
O'DONNELL: -- those tickets. What would be the counter-argument here? Do the Republicans want the Obamas just to stay at home inside the White House --
CONASON: You know --
O'DONNELL: -- and not go out and socialize and, like --
CONASON: As somebody who lives in New York City, I mean, we here would see this as an economic development --
CONASON: -- program by the president. Twenty-four thousand in the scope of the expenses of the presidency isn't really very much. I'm glad he paid for the dinner and the tickets himself, though, because it wouldn't be much of a date if he had, you know, had the taxpayers pay to take out his wife.
So, this is what the presidency is. When the president travels -- as George Bush did, as Bill Clinton did, as presidents have, you know, throughout history -- the government pays to keep them safe, to keep their communication secure. This is just -- this is part of the job.
O'DONNELL: All right, Joe Conason. Great to see you, Joe. Thanks so much for joining us.