Donald Trump has come under fire for politicising the US Independence Day celebrations, ordering a large military parade through the nation’s capital city and planning a speech of his own at the Lincoln Memorial.
The US president has toyed with the idea of a grand show of arms since observing the 2017 Bastille Day celebration in Paris but has met with complaints about the cost of such an event and its impact on the military.
Mr Trump’s demand to include tanks and military jets in the July 4 festivities this year breaks with tradition in Washington, where hundreds of thousands of people typically gather for a night of patriotic songs and fireworks broadcast on national television.
Democrats in the House of Representatives, including majority leader Steny Hoyer, wrote to Mr Trump to complain that his plans would create “the appearance of a televised, partisan campaign rally on the Mall at public expense”, breaking from the convention of “non-partisan and apolitical” celebrations on July 4.
They added that his parade would incur “substantial unplanned costs”. The festivities are being partly funded by the $2.5m diverted from the National Park Service, according to The Washington Post.
Tom Udall, a Democratic senator from New Mexico, said the reported figure was “beyond the pale”.
“The American people pay these entrance fees to make improvements at our national parks — not to boost President Trump’s campaign,” he said. “The National Mall is not the place to hold a de facto political rally.”
Eliot Engel, the Democratic chair of the House foreign affairs committee, demanded “full accounting of this publicly funded event”, accusing Mr Trump of running a political campaign with taxpayers’ money.
Although the price tag on the celebrations has not been officially released, Mr Trump tweeted that the cost of the “great salute to America” would be “very little compared to what it is worth”.
“We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is fuel,” he wrote. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!”
On Wednesday, the Pentagon said that Mark Esper, acting defence secretary, and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, would both attend.
Local officials in Washington have warned that any attempt by Mr Trump to make a speech at the Mall would require extra security and force the closure of nearby metro stations. Muriel Bowser, Washington’s Democrat mayor, said at the end of May that she would prefer the event to remain in its usual format.