President Trump plans to have U.S. military planes, including one of the jetliners used as Air Force One, fly over the Mall as part of his Fourth of July celebration next month, according to three people briefed on the plans.
Under the arrangements, Trump would not be on board the presidential Boeing jetliner as it flew overhead, the people familiar with the plans said.
The White House, which declined to comment Tuesday, has provided few details on how it plans to change the long-standing celebration of Independence Day in the nation’s capital. The Washington Post reported in May that the president plans to speak on July 4 at the Lincoln Memorial in an event dubbed “Salute to America,” a move that has shifted the National Park Service’s fireworks launch from the reflecting pool area to West Potomac Park.
Speaking to supporters in Orlando Tuesday night as he launched his reelection campaign, the president touted the Independence Day festivities he’s helped to orchestrate.
“By the way, on July 4th in Washington D.C., come on down! We’re going to have a big day,” Trump told the crowd. “We’re going to have hundreds of thousands of people.”
In a statement Wednesday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the White House event “will honor each of the nation’s five service branches with music, military demonstrations, flyovers and much more.” He added that the public will now be able to watch the fireworks from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the World War II Memorial and Constitution Gardens, since the launch site has changed.
“There is no more appropriate place to celebrate the anniversary of American independence than among the Nation’s monuments on the National Mall and the memorials to the service men and women who have defended the United States for the past 243 years,” Bernhardt said.
But some lawmakers remain skeptical. On Tuesday, three senior Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote Bernhardt a letter asking that he provide the panel with details on how much the celebration would cost, who would pay for it and what other changes were planned.
“We are deeply troubled that the president’s involvement at the event will turn the long-standing, nonpartisan celebration into a de facto campaign rally conducted at taxpayer expense that will serve to further divide rather than unify the nation,” wrote Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.). “We are also concerned that the decision to expand the event to include a potential Presidential address will require the National Park Service to divert resources from other priorities of the Mall or other national park system units at a time when it is facing significant budgetary pressures to address its $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog and accommodate record-setting visitation.”
Interior Department spokeswoman Molly Block said Tuesday in an email that the department had “nothing to announce” regarding a military flyover on the Mall. In regards to the senators’ request, she added, “We have received the letter and will respond in a timely manner.”
Separately, Van Hollen and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) wrote House and Senate appropriators Tuesday that they need additional funds this year for the District’s Emergency Planning and Security Fund because it will run out of funds in July, in part because it has still not been reimbursed $7.3 million for costs stemming from Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
“It is important to note that the spend rate does factor in the substantial unanticipated costs for President Trump’s July 4th speech and activities at the Lincoln Memorial,” Van Hollen and Norton wrote. “Since the July 4th program has not yet been set, those costs are still unknown.”
Park Service and D.C. officials have already begun to make changes to accommodate the White House’s planned celebration. Park Service officials issued a notice last week informing local residents who play softball and other sports in West Potomac Park that between June 29 and July 6, “multiple athletic fields managed by the Mall will be unavailable for use due to activities associated with President Trump’s Independence Day celebration.”