With one day to go until July 4, the tickets have been doled out and the tanks are in place for the President’s invitation-only Salute To America event.
The event is relatively small and Trump’s wish for a grand military display has been significantly toned down, but it still marks an attempt at turning a traditionally neutral holiday into a partisan event.
“We’ve gotten used to this,” former Federal Election Commission general counsel Larry Noble told TPM. “It really does politicize the holiday.”
For the event, which is tacked on to the annual July 4 celebration on the national mall, The White House has doled out VIP tickets to the RNC. The committee argued that this did not stray from any norms, telling TPM that it had received tickets “just as the DNC did under Democrat Presidents. This is routine for events like the White House Christmas Open Houses, Garden Tours in spring and fall, etc.”
Trump’s re-election staff was also given passes to the event.
“As a courtesy, the campaign was provided tickets for staff and their families and friends, much like for the Easter Egg Roll or White House garden tours,” campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told the Washington Post.
TPM found that the Maryland GOP was bragging about tickets to the event that it had received from the White House. And the Trump campaign emailed its supporters on Tuesday with an invitation to attend.
“We hope you’ll be able to attend as Americans from across the United States gather to celebrate our Nation’s Independence,” the message reads, before emphasizing that “the event is open to the public and not a campaign event.”
UPDATE — The WH gave away tickets last week to the "VIP" area to political appointees and to the RNC for Trump's July 4 speech on the National Mall.
— S.V. Dáte (@svdate) July 2, 2019
Noble told TPM that while the event appears to break only norm, not laws, in its current iteration, “it looks terrible.”
The legal distinction would come down in part to Trump’s behavior during his speech. If he uses the July 4 pulpit to harangue political enemies, discuss the election, or solicit donations somehow, that could render the hour-long Salute To America a Trump campaign event, according to Noble.
Aside from a speech from Trump, the event will feature military equipment, as was requested by the President.
The tanks themselves will not parade down Washington D.C. streets as Trump initially pitched, and but will sit on the national mall as Trump gives a speech, CNN reported. A number of aircraft, including a B-2 stealth bomber, the Blue Angels, and F-35 fighter jets, will also participate in a flyover. And a procession of troops is set to accompany the spectacle.
Photos from D.C. show the two M1A2 Abrams tanks — accompanied by Bradley Fighting Vehicles — sitting in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, as crews set up bleachers and bunting for Independence Day.
Preparations underway as military vehicles are positioned near Lincoln Memorial at the president’s direction for tomorrow’s “Salute to America” pic.twitter.com/fEC190e98X
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) July 3, 2019
Trump’s tacked-on event with military fanfare and VIP tickets for Republican donors is being financed by federal money, as the President addressed in a Wednesday tweet.
The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will 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 the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2019
The National Park Service is diverting $2.5 million to finance the event, the Washington Post reported. The money will come out of “entrance and recreation fees” that national park visitors pay into, and which are intended to fund improvements at the national parks themselves.
But the $2.5 million is a far cry from the reported $92 million that Trump’s earlier stab at a military parade would have cost. That effort was cancelled in August 2018 amid concerns over the massive price tag.