WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump defended the undisclosed cost of his Fourth of July military showcase on Wednesday amid reports that nearly $2.5 million in funding for national park repairs had been diverted to cover some of the costs of the hourlong event.
“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth,” Trump tweeted at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. “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!”
Trump’s tweet came as congressional Democrats continue to press the Pentagon, the White House and the Department of Interior to provide details on the cost of the president’s 6:30 p.m. address in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The president’s “Salute to America” will feature a display of U.S. military tankers and flyovers by Air Force One, the Navy’s Blue Angels fighter jets and other military aircraft.
In a Wednesday tweet, Trump promised “the show of a lifetime,” but local lawmakers and government watchdog groups have complained that the display of military assets on Independence Day runs counter to the spirit of the decades-old nonpartisan celebration on the National Lawn.
Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents Northern Virginia neighborhoods surrounding D.C., said Wednesday in an interview with CNN that the rollout of military tanks on public streets "reminds me of some small autocratic country."
On Tuesday evening as 60-ton tanks rolled through the nation’s capital, the Army issued an advisory to residents: “You’ll see them moving through your neighborhood, but DON’T PANIC.”
It wasn't disclosed where the military hardware would be parked, but local officials voiced concern about whether bridges could withstand the weight of the vehicles.
The National Park Service is diverting $2.5 million in money initially intended for park repairs across the country to pay for Trump’s July Fourth presentation, according to a report Tuesday night in The Washington Post. The money, collected from admission fees at national parks, has been redirected as the National Park Service grapples with an $11 billion maintenance backlog, according to the Post.
Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement called the move "a breach of the public's trust."
“Siphoning off desperately needed money from our national parks to pay for a spectacle on our National Mall is both reckless and a breach of the public’s trust," Pierno said. " Two and a half million dollars might not seem like a lot to this administration, but to a national park it’s everything."
The $2.5 million is expected to cover only a fraction of the cost of expanding the capital’s long-standing fireworks celebration to include the president’s public address and military showcase. Not mentioned by the president in his tweets is the cost of labor associated with transporting the vehicles from other military bases, the cost of staffing the equipment, and the cost of added security that comes with any presidential public appearance.
Long Island’s Fireworks by Grucci and Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks have agreed to donate the supplies and services for the $750,000 fireworks display.