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Trump donates portion of salary to national parks

White House press secretary Sean Spicer (R) gives Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) the first quarter check of US President Donald Trump’s salary which he donated to the National Park Service on April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

By Ese Olumhense

Maintaining historic battlefields

President Donald Trump gave a portion of his salary to the National Park Service on Monday, fulfilling the commitment he made not to accept even a dollar of his $400,000 salary as U.S. president.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday presented a $78,333 check to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Tyrone Brandyburg, the superintendent at Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia. The money will go toward maintaining historic battlefields, Zinke said in a statement on Monday.

“President Trump is dedicated to our veterans, our public lands, and keeping his promises, and by donating his salary to the National Park Service to repair our historic battlefields proves his commitment,” Zinke said. “I’m honored to help the president carry out his love and appreciation for our warriors and land.”

The gift is a nominal contribution toward the $229 million budget shortfall needed to maintain the battlefields. Trump’s budget proposal will cut 12 percent, or $1.5 billion, from the Department of the Interior’s budget. Maintenance costs for the National Parks Service alone total $12 billion.

Cuts not just for the Interior Department

Trump’s budget blueprint, released in March, proposed cuts to not just the Interior Department, which oversees national conservation programs and protects natural resources, but to a broad swath of cabinet-level agencies. This includes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which will lose nearly a third of its budget if Congress approves his plan.

By trimming budgets and tightening spending for so many departments and programs, Trump hopes to offset a boost in spending for defense. That will reverse what he deemed the “dangerous trend” of a “shrinking military” that Trump believes was caused by the Obama administration.

Though hotly criticized at the time, little in the budget outline diverged from what Trump said on the campaign trail, where he’d promised to strengthen the nation’s “depleted military;” “take a tremendous amount out” of the EPA, with the exception of “little tidbits;” and axe what he dubbed “wasteful spending projects” in each federal department.

In the proposal’s introduction, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said that the plan “does provide lawmakers and the public with a view of the priorities of the president and his administration.” He also promised that it was the product of “hard choices.”

Why cut the budget?

Regardless of their personal politics, most voters on either end of the political spectrum would likely appreciate Trump’s decision to give his salary to the National Park Service — which isn’t exactly a charity but which is facing a significant budget shortfall.

But, some critics question: if Trump acknowledges the need to donate money to the Interior Department, why cut its budget?

Trump has also had a contentious public relationship with the parks service, notably when one of its employees shared photographs on Twitter comparing the crowd at his inauguration with that of Obama’s in 2009. Trump later called the acting director of the service for answers.

“Why is the National Park Service tweeting out comparison photos?” a White House spokesperson asked at the time, in an effort to explain Trump’s reason for calling.

It’s perhaps likely that the gift, given to preserve only historic military battlegrounds, is further evidence of Trump’s military affinity and defense priorities.

Regardless, the gesture is both important and symbolic. Only two other presidents, both wealthy, have ever refused their salary: Herbert Hoover and John F. Kennedy Jr.