Washington, DC, always puts on a show for the Fourth of July, but for the first time this year, President Donald Trump is personally planning and throwing together his own Independence Day event at the Lincoln Memorial.
All are welcome, but VIPs, including Republican donors, will get some special seating. There will be tanks — standing still, not rolling — and there will be fighter jets flying overhead. Trump’s show will be followed by the regular, PBS-broadcast annual concert in front of the Capitol, but the fireworks will be bigger than usual, unless it rains — which the forecast says it may.
Here’s what we know about what’s changing in DC for the Fourth of July this year in roughly the order we learned about it:
Trump adds Lincoln Memorial event
Although the Lincoln Memorial is usually utilized for fireworks watching, this year it will feature a speech by Trump. The area in front of the memorial has been cordoned off for a VIP area and tickets have been distributed to the RNC and political donors, among others.
Folk Life Festival wraps before July 4th
It’s unrelated to Trump’s “Salute to America,” but in a major change partially related to the government shutdown earlier in the year, the Smithsonian truncated its yearly Folk Life Festival from 10 days down to just two. The festival, which is meant to expose Americans attending July Fourth celebrations to other cultures, wrapped over the weekend. Instead, this year the festival celebrated the social power of music in the DC area.
Due to Trump’s event, the launch site for the DC fireworks show was moved from the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial to West Potomac park, along the Potomac river.
Fireworks show gets bigger
The DC fireworks show, televised on PBS, usually runs about 20 minutes from 9:07 until 9:27 p.m. ET. This year, thanks to a donation by a fireworks company, it will run a full 35 minutes and wrap at 9:42 p.m. ET.
Blue Angels, Air Force One will do flyover
Trump will speak around 6:30 p.m. ET, and there will be a 21-gun salute and a flyover by the plane that’s known as Air Force One when the President is aboard, according to a defense official.
Trump will say an introduction and then speak individually about each service. He will first talk about the Coast Guard, with his remarks being followed by the Coast Guard flyover. This format will be repeated for the Air Force, then the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Army.
The President will then make closing remarks and the Navy’s elite airshow squadron, the Blue Angels — which canceled a planned rest to participate — will do their demonstration.
DC airspace closed
In an expensive headache for commercial airlines, airspace around Washington, DC, will close twice on the 4th of July. In normal years it does not close at all. But moving the fireworks display launch site closer to the river and adding the aircraft flyovers means new restrictions just before and during the 6:30 p.m. ET “Salute to America” and the 9:07 p.m. ET fireworks.
The closures will impact nearly 100 scheduled flights, according to a CNN review of flight records.
The last time DC airspace was closed was in 2015, when World War II fighters did a ceremonial flyover along the Mall.
Tanks on display
Trump confirmed to reporters that there will be tanks and other armored vehicles on display for his event. Military officials tell CNN they will not parade along Pennsylvania Avenue and Trump acknowledges the tracks on the vehicles could ruin city streets.
The DC City Council opposes the display of military vehicles in this way, but Trump wants to celebrate the military on Independence Day. They rolled into town Tuesday night on trains.
Protests planned, including the Baby Trump balloon
The National Park Service granted a permit for a protest less than a mile down the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial that will include a large inflatable balloon in the likeness of Trump as a baby. Anti-Trump veterans will hand out T-shirts for the USS John McCain in order to troll Trump, who has belittled the dead senator and former prisoner of war.
Political allies get VIP tickets
Compounding concerns that Trump’s event will seem more like a political rally, Republican donors and VIPs will get special access to the event. Roughly 15,000 tickets are being issued for the event and 500 of those are for VIPs, including some given to the RNC, CNN reports.
Money diverted to cover costs
It’s nowhere near the budget-busting $90 million estimate Trump got for his preferred Veterans Day parade of thousands of service members through DC streets, but there is certainly a cost to the “Salute to America.” What that cost will ultimately be is not clear.
The Air Force told CNN it would cover the cost of flyovers by classifying the events as training missions and using existing funds for pilot hours. But the Washington Post reported the National Park Service would need to redirect at least $2.5 million from funds earmarked to improve parks around the country to help cover new costs as a result of the event.
In a tweet, Trump said the cost would be “very little compared to what it’s worth.” It’s just not clear how much very little is.
Military chiefs concerned
While most of the top US military brass will attend the event, some had prior engagements planned. CNN reported that Pentagon leaders had reservations about displaying weaponry for show and involving the military in what’s become a political event. Because the event is paid for by taxpayers, Trump’s campaign might have to reimburse the government if he mentions his 2020 rivals.
There will, however be approximately 750-800 military personnel taking part in the “Salute to America,” the defense official told CNN.
That number does not include the additional 900 members of the DC National Guard that have been activated to provide traffic control and security on the streets and in the Metro subway system in Washington.
Mother Jones reported Wednesday that a flyer was distributed to local military service members in Washington taking part in today’s festivities with suggested statements including, “I am proud of my job and my vehicle/tank. I am glad to share my experience with American People.”
It also recommends “I am proud to honor the Nation and the Armed Forces during this Independence Day Celebration” as another approved comment when speaking to the public, urging service members to “relax and speak to America.”
The guidance came from the local military authority in the Washington area, the Joint Force Headquarters — National Capital Region, not the Pentagon.
Such statements are fairly standard fare for large events, with a defense official saying in a statement obtained by CNN, “It’s common practice for the military to issue media cards to personnel with messages and talking points that align with service messages about the event to provide guidance for service members if engaged by the media.”
Thunderstorms are a real possibility
Okay, this happens all the time in DC’s muggy climate, but everyone should be on the lookout for thunder, lightning, and a possible fireworks redo.