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Uncertainty, a red carpet and a hallowed memorial await Trump’s Fourth

Preparations underway on July 1, 2019, for the Fourth of July event in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
Preparations underway on July 1, 2019, for the Fourth of July event in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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The red carpet has been unrolled at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. The giant video screens and loudspeakers are ready. And on a platform in front of the place for the cameras, a brown lectern and lone microphone wait for Thursday.

Beyond that — and the showery weather forecast — many details about President Trump’s plans for a Fourth of July extravaganza remain clouded in uncertainty.

He has said there will be tanks, modern Abrams tanks and “brand-new” World War II-era Sherman tanks, present for his speech at the memorial.

Two tanks and several other vehicles were seen being power-washed on railroad cars Tuesday near the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

President Trump has asked the Pentagon to marshal a broadening array of military hardware, including tanks and fighter jets, for his Fourth of July address. (Video: The Washington Post)

It was not clear whether the president misspoke about the Shermans, which haven’t been manufactured in decades, or has obtained Shermans not-so-new from a museum or other repository.

National Park Service officials have warned that tanks near the Lincoln Memorial could damage the hallowed site. An Abrams tank weighs more than 60 tons.

Engineers were examining the area this week to determine whether the weight would affect the memorial’s underground rooms, according to one official with knowledge of the planning.

Park Service diverts $2.5 million in fees for Trump’s July Fourth extravaganza

The memorial to Abraham Lincoln sits on a man-made eminence built with fill from the Potomac River and is supported on concrete pilings sunk 44 to 65 feet down to bedrock.

It is almost a century old. The structure was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and is undergoing a $25 million renovation.

It was not clear who was paying for all the presidential hoopla. But late Tuesday, it was learned that the cash-strapped Park Service is planning to tap its entrance and recreation fees to pay $2.45 million in White House spending on the event, according to two people familiar with the arrangement. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

That is believed to be only a portion of the bill.

The cost of a military parade Trump wanted to stage last year was about $92 million, including $50 million in Defense Department expenses, defense officials said at the time.

The parade was scrapped after the costs became public.

Meanwhile, the White House has said VIP tickets will be issued for members of the administration and their family members and friends. HuffPost reported Monday that the tickets are also going to Republican donors and political appointees, and the Republican National Committee confirmed that it had received passes to Trump’s address.

But it is uncertain how many such tickets will be given out or where the ticket holders will stand or sit.

On Tuesday, two fenced-off areas were seen in front of the Lincoln Memorial along both sides of the Reflecting Pool, running about a quarter of its length. They seemed that they might be intended for VIPs.

The area in front of the memorial on Tuesday was crowded with tents, trailers and colored spotlights, as if in preparation for a rock concert.

Trump intends to address the nation from the memorial, upending tradition and bringing extensive change to the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.

Here’s what we know about Trump’s Fourth of July plans

His “Salute to America,” with music, military demonstrations and flyovers by Air Force One, the Navy’s Blue Angels flight team and other aircraft, is to take place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The holiday fireworks have been moved from their usual site along the Reflecting Pool, and a second fireworks show has been added.

The first fireworks display will launch at 9:07 p.m. from flatbed tractor-trailers parked on a mile-long stretch behind the memorial, officials have said.

The second display will take place about 15 minutes later in West Potomac Park, about 1,500 feet south of where the pyrotechnics have traditionally been launched. Preparations have been underway for several days.

Trump said Monday that this Fourth will be “like no other.”

But local officials and critics have complained that he is turning a nonpartisan celebration of the nation’s birthday into a political campaign event.

No president has been part of a Fourth of July celebration on the Mall in recent memory.

President Ronald Reagan participated in a “Star Spangled Salute to America” at the Jefferson Memorial on July 3, 1987. And Presidents George Washington and John Adams attended celebrations in various towns around the country.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, said Monday that battle tanks could significantly damage the Mall, not long after the Park Service spent millions of dollars in public money to refurbish the site.

“These tanks, heavy equipment, and weapons of war have no place on the Mall at all, particularly as we celebrate the Fourth of July,” she said in a statement.

And Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) called on Trump to “personally reimburse” taxpayers for any damage done to local roads and bridges during the event.

Pentagon grapples with how to move tanks from a Washington rail yard to the National Mall

It is uncertain how much the additional events will cost the city and the federal government.

The city says that Trump still has not paid the D.C. government more than $7 million for the 2017 inauguration, which cost the city $27.3 million.

The president’s appearance means extra security and puts additional locations off-limits to spectators. It remains to be seen how Trump’s movements and the addition of the VIP sections might affect the public’s ability to get around.

Trump’s plan to insert himself into the event has also sparked calls for protests. Demonstrators carrying the “Baby Trump” blimp have said they will be present, and others opposed to Trump’s participation have said they will boycott the event in protest.

In addition to all the activity on July 4, D.C. police face a right-wing rally on Saturday, July 6.

The event scheduled for Freedom Plaza is expected to draw counterdemonstrators whose protests on Inauguration Day turned destructive.

“We’ll have people in different locations and watching,” said Sgt. Eduardo Delgado, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police, speaking of both events. “We prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

He said members of the Park Police’s civil disobedience unit will be on standby Saturday but will not be deployed unless needed.

Delgado said officers are ready for both the holiday and the weekend.

At a news conference on Friday, local and federal officials tried to limit discussion about Saturday, wary of contributing to rhetoric that could inflame passions.

“We will be staffed accordingly,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told reporters, noting that authorities expect protesters and counterprotesters at Saturday’s rally. “This is not out of the ordinary here in Washington, D.C., so we’ll be ready for it,” he said.

Lori Aratani and Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.

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