WASHINGTON ― The White House said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump sent a personal check for $25,000 ― belatedly, it appears ― to a grieving father whose son was killed serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Though it’s an unusual gesture, it’s not the first time a U.S. president has sent a check to a private citizen.
President Barack Obama said in 2011 that he’d done it. “It’s not something I should advertise, but it has happened,” Obama told the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow, who wrote a book profiling some of the people who’d detailed their struggles in letters to the then-president.
Ronald Reagan also reportedly dipped into his own bank account to help people out. Author Ronald Kessler reported in 2009 book about the Secret Service that Reagan made a habit out of it.
“I hand-carried checks for four thousand dollars or five thousand dollars to people who had written him,” White House assistant Frank J. Kelly told Kessler. “He would say, ‘Don’t tell people. I was poor myself.’”
Reagan also apparently sent a $50 check in 1986 to an 11-year-old girl who’d written the White House saying she wanted to help the homeless.
While these presidential gestures may have initially been made discreetly, they were probably deliberate political performances, said Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University in Montreal.
“In the age of the permanent campaign, the bully pulpit on steroids ... everything becomes political,” Troy said.
In Trump’s case, during a phone call in June, Chris Baldridge complained to the president that only his ex-wife would receive the military survivor benefits after their son, Army Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, had been killed in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Trump said he’d give Baldridge $25,000, but hadn’t delivered.
Wednesday afternoon ― after the Post story had appeared on the newspaper’s website ― White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said the check was in the mail.
“It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the president, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda,” Walters said.
Trump is also not the first president to be tardy in sending a promised check. Obama had a similar episode, sending a check to the Kayla’s Hands Foundation last year in honor of Kayla Mueller, who was killed in 2015 after being taken captive by ISIS. Obama had first said he’d make a donation 18 months earlier and in a letter to the family last year said the delay had been a mistake.
This story has been updated with comment from history professor Gil Troy.