WASHINGTON - U.S. military armored vehicles stood near Washington’s majestic Lincoln Memorial on Wednesday as President Donald Trump pushed ahead with an elaborate Fourth of July production with him at the center, as critics accused him of hijacking a nonpartisan celebration of America’s Independence Day.
Trump, seeking re-election next year, was billing his appearance on Washington’s monument-lined National Mall as a tribute to the American armed forces, featuring fighter jet flyovers, military music and an extended fireworks display.
The scale, cost and partisan tone of the show being managed by the former reality TV personality turned Republican politician came under attack from critics, injecting Washington’s divisive politics into a national holiday.
Trump defended his plans in a Twitter post on Wednesday that said, “The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!”
Joint Base Andrews in located in Maryland.
An annual parade and fireworks show in Washington on the Fourth of July typically draws hundreds of thousands of people for a nonpolitical commemoration of the anniversary of the nation’s founders declaring independence from Britain in 1776. Trump’s plans, which were still being devised this week, called for a different sort of event.
Republican political groups confirmed that they had been given prime tickets for Trump’s speech. Protest groups planned floats and events to mock the president. Scattered thunderstorms were forecast for Thursday afternoon and evening.
Democrats have accused Trump of using taxpayer money to mount a political rally, and some commentators have raised concerns about the politicization of the military. The White House said the president will focus his remarks on patriotism, not politics.
A Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicle was parked across from the white marble Lincoln Memorial, with military personnel clad in camouflage uniforms. M1 Abrams tanks also will be displayed.
The Defense Department shipped tanks by rail from the U.S. Army’s Fort Stewart in Georgia and arranged for flyovers by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels squadron, a B-2 stealth bomber, F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, a V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and the Marine One helicopters and Air Force One jetliner used to transport the president. The Pentagon said top military leaders will attend.
The Washington Post reported that the U.S. National Park Service has diverted $2.5 million in park entrance fees to help pay for the event, which typically costs about $2 million.
That money is supposed to be used to maintain national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, said Phil Francis, head of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a group that works in support of national parks.
“When people pay these fees, they are told the money will be used to support the parks not to support what appears to be a political event,” he told Reuters.
The cash-strapped Park Service is already short 200 law enforcement rangers and has left many other positions unfilled, Francis added.
Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who oversees the Park Service’s budget as head of a House of Representatives subcommittee, accused Trump of “hijacking the celebration and twisting it into a taxpayer-funded, partisan political rally” and vowed to investigate whether taxpayer money was being misused.
“Using National Park entrance fees to pay for this display of pageantry is absolutely outrageous,” McCollum said in a statement. “These fees are not a slush fund for this administration to use at will.”
The Trump administration so far has refused to say how much the event will cost in total. The Pentagon said last year that a military parade requested by Trump would have cost $90 million. Trump ultimately dropped those plans.
Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “Our July 4th Salute to America at the Lincoln Memorial is looking to be really big. It will be the show of a lifetime!”