is putting his imprint on Independence Day with the “Salute to America,” a spectacle that will include a speech, fireworks and a display of military hardware.
The president is promising “the show of a lifetime,” but the event is facing criticism from Democrats and advocates for national parks who say the celebration will focus more on Trump than the holiday at an exorbitant cost for taxpayers.
Here are five things to watch during Thursday’s festivities on the National Mall.
Will Trump get political?
The White House has insisted that the president will keep his remarks on Thursday evening focused on the military, the flag and the nation’s independence.
“The president is not going to get political,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Tuesday during an interview on Fox Business Network.
But there’s reason for skepticism, as Trump has in the past used official White House events to attack his opponents from behind the presidential seal.
Democrats and watchdogs further argue that the president has already politicized Independence Day by inserting himself into traditionally apolitical celebrations on the National Mall.
Trump has played an active role in the planning and promotion of the “Salute to America,” with other agencies scrambling to fulfill his requests for flyovers and other displays of military hardware. Critics have also seized on the designation of a VIP area for White House guests near the Lincoln Memorial.
“I am concerned that the President is attempting to make our national holiday more about himself than celebrating the freedoms and sacrifices that have made our country great,” House Majority Leader (D-Md.) said in a statement to The Hill.
How much will it cost?
Trump’s initial desire to hold a military parade last Veterans Day was scrapped largely because of a reported price tag of $92 million. Thursday’s event will also come with an exorbitant cost.
The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that the National Park Service will divert $2.5 million in entrance fees intended to improve parks nationwide in order to cover costs for Trump’s Fourth of July event.
Officials at the Interior and Defense departments have been mum about the specific price tag.
“Any time a president visits a public place like a national park to address the American public there are necessary additional costs associated with public safety and security,” Interior Department spokeswoman Molly Block said in a statement.
Trump’s presence will require additional security that will lead to overtime costs, and the use of tanks and military aircraft will add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the tab. Democrats and local officials have voiced concerns that the tanks in particular will damage infrastructure, leading to additional costs.
Trump defended the mounting expenses on Wednesday, asserting the event’s cost will be “very little compared to what it is worth.”
How big of a role will the military play?
The “Salute to America” appears it will fulfill Trump’s desire for a military parade, as the armed forces will feature prominently in Thursday’s proceedings.
“The Pentagon & our great Military Leaders are thrilled to be doing this & showing to the American people, among other things, the strongest and most advanced Military anywhere in the World,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Incredible Flyovers & biggest ever Fireworks!”
Video went viral on social media of tanks being transported near Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday night en route to the National Mall, where they will be on display on Thursday.
The Interior Department has said the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and an Air Force One jet will be part of a flyover during the event. The Post reported that Trump has pressed for an F-35 stealth fighter and a Marine One helicopter to be part of the showcase as well.
But Democrats are worried that Trump is using the military as a prop, and that Thursday’s event will mirror displays of military might that are commonplace in authoritarian regimes.
“Tanks aren’t toys or props. Our servicemembers don’t train every day to inflate your ego,” Rep. (D-R.I.) tweeted after it was reported Trump wanted tanks on the Mall.
“Stop taking notes from your buddy ,” he added, referring to the North Korean autocrat.
Who will be in the crowd?
Trump’s event is separate from long-standing holiday festivities in the District like “A Capitol Fourth” and the Independence Day parade.
As a result, the National Mall will be a mix of political supporters and protesters, residents and tourists. The size of the crowd — something Trump is known to fixate on — could hinge on the weather and whether locals in Democratic-leaning Washington, D.C., feel inclined to sit on the Mall through the president’s remarks.
Activist group Code Pink plans to hold a protest near the Washington Monument on Thursday afternoon, complete with a “Baby Trump” balloon that has been prominent at anti-Trump rallies in London. It’s unclear how many Trump supporters will be in the crowd, or whether it could lead to a tense atmosphere.
The space around the Lincoln Memorial has been designated a VIP area for White House guests only. Friends and family of the administration, government officials and military members will be among those in the designated section.
The Defense Department announced Wednesday that a dozen top Pentagon officials will attend, and that the White House provided the agency with 5,000 tickets.
Lawmakers are mostly out of town, but political donors and supporters will also have a front-row seat, as the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Trump campaign were given an allotment of tickets. An RNC official asserted the practice was standard for similar celebrations at the White House under Democratic administrations.
Will there be a surprise in store?
Trump is prone to deliver the unexpected, and the “Salute to America” could provide a few unpredictable twists before the day is done.
Administration officials have only spoken broadly about Trump’s remarks, meaning the president could seize headlines if he seizes the moment for political purposes.
The Washington Post reported that that the White House was working to potentially project an image from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission onto the Washington Monument in what would be a break from standard policy about altering the appearance of national monuments.
And Mother Nature has the potential to wreak havoc on best-laid plans. The Washington, D.C., forecast calls for temperatures in the 90s and high humidity. There is also a chance for storms to sweep through the area.
“We fully expect tomorrow’s events celebrating Independence Day on the National Mall to take place rain or shine,” an Interior Department spokeswoman said.
While fireworks and Trump’s speech could likely continue in the event of light rain, inclement weather could put a damper on turnout and complicate the president’s plans for an elaborate flyover.