President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C. this year has been heavily criticized, with opponents objecting to what they view as gauche militarism and slamming the White House for politicizing the nation’s birthday.
The “Salute to America” event will feature a parade of military tanks and equipment, flyovers from the Navy’s Blue Angels, and other demonstrations from the various branches of the Armed Forces.
Washington’s local government objected to parade — especially the tanks, which authorities say will damage the capital’s National Mall. “Tanks, but no tanks,” DC’s City Council said.
Trump, nonetheless, tweeted on Wednesday that the parade will be "the show of a lifetime."
“We don’t need to shout to be heard. We don’t need to roll tanks down the streets for the rest of the world to know our strength and our might,” former Texas Congressman and 2020 candidate Beto O’Rourke told reporters on Tuesday. “It is unfortunate that that’s what we’ve come to expect from this president.”
Yet other Democrats and political watchdogs groups say the event, which will honor the country’s 243rd birthday, poses ethical and legal concerns, especially regarding the cost and the potential for the president to turn the event into a campaign rally.
“No politician in history has used their power to benefit themselves, their ego, and their political donors more than Trump. It’s a perfect symbol of his presidency that on July Fourth it will be Trump First,” Jesse Lee, the vice president of communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, told Cheddar.
Trump said on Monday that he plans to “say a few words” at the event.
A tank parked near the Lincoln Memorial for President Trump's 'Salute to America' July Fourth event. (Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP/Shutterstock)
While the event is free to the public, controversy also arose when reports began to emerge that the government was providing VIP tickets to the Republican National Committee (RNC) to distribute to donors and supporters. The RNC confirmed to Cheddar that the party has received a small amount of tickets, which it said has been standard practice for both political parties.
Trump has “brazenly set aside an exclusive VIP section for political supporters and family,” Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at the political advocacy group Public Citizen, told Cheddar. “This VIP section is being used for partisan fundraising purposes as the Trump campaign and RNC hand out these exclusive tickets to major donors.”
Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign's national press secretary, refuted criticism of the event, saying on Twitter “leave it to the left to find a reason to hate on the 'Salute to America' July 4th celebration! … Unbelievable‼️”
Campaign ethics and finance experts warn that politicizing the holiday could be in violation of the Hatch Act, which bans executive branch employees from engaging in political activities.
If Trump turns the Fourth of July into a “taxpayer-funded campaign rally,” it will violate federal law and the Trump campaign “better have the campaign’s checkbook handy and be ready to write plenty of zeros,” Walter Shaub, a senior advisor at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said in a statement.
Shaub, who is also the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, added that Thursday’s affair also raises concerns over Trump promoting his private business interests. CREW found that the Trump International Hotel, which is walking distance from where the president will address the public, significantly raised its prices this week
“This proximity raises a question of misuse of position by White House staffers involved in coordinating the event for their boss,” Shaub said.
While the Defense Department has not released an official figure on the cost of the parade, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the National Park Service is diverting nearly $2.5 million to cover the event.
“It is unacceptable that the Interior Department is failing to inform Congress about how it plans to spend taxpayer money to fund the president’s lavish July 4th plans, which reportedly include special access to the National Mall for the politically connected,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in a statement this week. “The American people deserve to know how much of their money the president is spending to turn their July 4th celebration into a de facto campaign rally … We need answers.”
The comments follow an unanswered letter that Udall — the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department’s budget — and two other Democratic senators sent Interior Secretary Bernhardt last month demanding that the agency explain its financial involvement in the festivities.
In the House, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who sits on the chamber’s Appropriations Committee, also sent a letter to Bernhardt this week demanding answers.
“I have a duty to avoid wasteful spending, be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and promote accountability in the budget. This includes speaking out against the misuse of U.S. military assets and the overt politicization of our Armed Forces,” wrote Ryan, who is also a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.
The Department of Interior did not respond to a request for comment from Cheddar.