Congress may thwart Decorator-in-Chief Trump on design for Air Force One

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

During an interview with ABC News this week, President Trump unveiled a new color scheme for Air Force One that he said he designed himself for the next generation of the presidential fleet of Boeing 747s. But lawmakers who have to approve the cost might have different ideas.

The red, white and blue layout Trump came up with is a departure from the blue-and-white scheme that has been in place since the 1960s. Last year, Trump struck a deal with Boeing to purchase two Air Force One planes at a cost of $3.9 billion.

However, the president’s design dreams were potentially undercut across town at Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee’s markup of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., put forth an amendment that would require congressional approval for changes to the paint scheme and interior design of Air Force One. Although Republicans said it seemed like a poke at the president, Courtney defended it as an economy measure.

President Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One at José Martí International Airport for a 48-hour visit March 20, 2016, in Havana. Obama was the first president in nearly 90 years to visit Cuba, the last one being Calvin Coolidge. (Photo: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo Photography/Getty Images)

“Additional paint can add weight to the plane, additional fixtures inside the plane can also add cost and delays to the delivery of the plane,” Courtney said, noting that he was retaining flexibility for the Air Force and Boeing.

With final design specifications not due until 2021, a Democratic victory in the 2020 election could make any planned changes irrelevant. Trump would not have much time in the new Air Force One even if he wins a second term. The Air Force expects the first of the new planes in September 2024, so even without any overrun in production he would be limited to a few months.

"As I understand it, these planes are not even going to be delivered until late 2024, 2025,” said Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash. “This president is not going to fly on this plane under any circumstances … we're simply trying to exercise our oversight responsibilities to try to save the taxpayers money.”

Trump agreed during the ABC News interview, saying, “"I'm doing that for other presidents, not for me.”

Air Force One lands at Stansted Airport on June 3, 2019, in London. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Trump first described the changes to the presidential aircraft last year.

“Air Force One is going to be incredible,” said Trump in an interview with CBS News. “It's gonna be the top of the line, the top in the world. And it's gonna be red, white and blue, which I think is appropriate."

Charles Leerhsen, who served as Trump’s ghostwriter from 1988 to 1990, wrote for Yahoo News in May that the president has long been obsessed with interior design.

“A real go-getter, right?” wrote Leerhsen. “But Trump’s portfolio did not jibe with what I saw each day — which to a surprisingly large extent was him looking at fabric swatches. Indeed, flipping through fabric swatches seemed at times to be his main occupation. Some days he would do it for hours. . . It was true that the carpets and drapes at his properties needed to be refreshed frequently, and the seats on the renamed Trump Shuttle required occasional reupholstering. But the main thing about fabric swatches was that they were within his comfort zone — whereas, for example, the management of hotels and airlines clearly wasn’t.”

Some of Courtney’s colleagues were more explicit in the desire to protect the current color scheme.

“The Air Force One plane is iconic,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. “It is known throughout the world. It has been the representation of the United States, the power of the president. It is used in diplomatic and international relations as (a statement) that the United States has arrived.”

“If someone wants to change its appearance, its scheme, we ought to have a say in it … If somebody wants the fixtures to be gold-plated, come back here and tell us why it ought to be that way.”

The House Armed Services committee passed the NDAA on Thursday morning by a vote of 33-24. There is no guarantee Courtney's amendment will survive until the final version of the bill, still needing to be voted on by the entire House and then reconciled with the Senate's version.

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