Federal officials announced Wednesday that President Trump will address the nation from the Mall on the Fourth of July, offering the administration’s first formal confirmation of the president’s unusual role in the country’s premier Independence Day celebration.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement that Trump’s remarks at the event, called Salute to America, would honor the U.S. armed forces. With the fireworks display moved to West Potomac Park, Bernhardt added, visitors will be able to gather around the reflecting pool and World War II memorial, which previously had been blocked to accommodate the pyrotechnics.
“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.
The Washington Post had previously reported on the president’s plans to become part of the gathering, including an article Tuesday that said one of the jetliners used for Air Force One will fly over the Mall, along with other military aircraft.
Bernhardt’s statement on Wednesday confirmed the flyovers, which reflect Trump’s long-standing interest in replicating the Bastille Day celebration he observed in France in 2017. It did not mention Air Force One.
D.C. officials who will help oversee security on July 4 said details of those arrangements are still being worked out with the federal government. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said the city would share information about road closures and access to the Mall in the coming weeks, urging would-be visitors to pay attention to changes from past years.
Along with the president’s appearance at the Lincoln Memorial and the moving of the main fireworks show to West Potomac Park, Newsham said Wednesday afternoon that it is his understanding that a second, smaller fireworks display may take place before the main show.
But later Wednesday, administration officials said the two displays would be merged. Interior spokeswoman Molly Block said the department was working “to bring two of America’s foremost fireworks companies together to produce the largest show ever seen in the nation’s capital.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), speaking earlier in the day, said moving the fireworks locations will influence where crowds gather and shape the deployment of police officers.
“Where will you be able to see it? Does it change where people are going to want to stop and view it? Will the fireworks start and people realize they can’t see it and try to be moving so they can see it?” Bowser said. “So those are the types of things that are just a little unknown when you change the location.”
A Capitol Fourth, the annual concert performed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, will proceed as planned, its organizers have said.
D.C. police said no boating would be allowed from 4 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. July 4 along the east side of the Potomac River from the 14th Street Bridge to just north of the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Boats will also be barred from anchoring between the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.
Police warned there may be intermittent travel restrictions between the 14th Street Bridge and the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge between 8:30 and 10 p.m.
Local officials have fretted that the president’s movements to and from the Mall — which will require new road closures and police deployments, and could cut off visitors’ usual routes of access to the event — will bring a host of logistical headaches to an event that has not been substantially changed since the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Federal officials have said they will pay for any added costs, but District officials are worried that the event could further deplete the city’s Emergency Planning and Security Fund, which is used to reimburse the city for security expenses such as hosting protests.
That fund is dwindling, in part because the White House and Congress never repaid the city $7.3 million for Trump’s inauguration. On Tuesday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote a letter to congressional appropriators requesting more money for the account.
While the president’s supporters have cheered his planned appearance at one of Washington’s most beloved summer gatherings, critics have said Trump’s speech could inject a partisan flavor into what is traditionally an apolitical event.
Van Hollen, along with Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), on Tuesday sent a letter to Bernhardt expressing concern that the Salute to America could divert National Park Service resources and “turn the longstanding, non-partisan celebration into a de facto campaign rally conducted at taxpayer expense.”
Asked on Wednesday whether she supported the president’s changes to the event, Bowser demurred but said she did not plan to watch his speech.
“It’s not really for me to support or not to support,” Bowser said. “I can say I won’t be attending.”
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.