WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s elaborate Independence Day celebrations last year in Washington, D.C., cost double that of previous years, ringing up $13 million in taxpayer dollars, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
The expanded event included a larger fireworks show and a parade featuring Army tanks, a flyover of military jets, and Air Force One. The day also boasted a speech from Trump himself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the first time in decades that a president has addressed the July Fourth crowd.
“This increase was attributable to the cost for (the Department of Defense) to transport several vehicles to the National Mall, the production and execution of the Salute to America event, and the additional security involved because the President attended the event,” the report found.
“Estimated costs for these events from 2016-2018 ranged between $6-7 million annually, and in 2019, more than $13 million – paid for primarily with annual federal appropriations,” a summary of the report reads.
Trump’s redesigned extravaganza last year was met with criticism over concerns of its expense and claims he politicized the annual celebration.
Nonetheless, the president is currently planning to push ahead with modified plans for a July Fourth celebration in D.C. this year, despite objections from local lawmakers as the coronavirus pandemic is still gripping the nation.
A statement from the White House regarding this year’s celebration says that Trump and first lady Melania Trump “will host the 2020 Salute to America on the South Lawn of the White House and Ellipse on Saturday, July 4.”
“In addition to music, military demonstrations, and flyovers to honor our Nation’s service members and veterans, the President will deliver remarks that celebrate our independence and salute our amazing heritage. The evening will culminate with a spectacular fireworks display over the National Mall,” the statement reads.
White House spokesperson Judd Deere told USA TODAY that the event “will have a different look than 2019 to ensure the health and safety of those attending.”
Trump is also scheduled to travel to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota to attend a fireworks show on July 3.
The GAO report comes as lawmakers have expressed concern about a celebration this year due to crowds gathering amid the health crisis, and the worry of the cost during a turbulent economy.
Democratic senators who requested the GAO report penned a letter after it’s release, seeking a review of the president’s Washington and Mount Rushmore plans for this year.
Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tom Udall of New Mexico and and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland wrote they are concerned Trump “intends to use these Fourth of July celebrations as a way to marshal the resources of Federal agencies to conduct de facto political events with official funds” as well the “prospect of large public events in the midst of a dangerous surge in COVID-19 pandemic infections.”
“The Government Accountability Office’s report confirms what we knew all along: the president was willing to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer funds – expenses that weren’t budgeted for and that roughly doubled what was spent in previous years – to meet his extravagant demands,” they wrote. “Now, the Trump administration is at it again – spending undisclosed amounts of taxpayer money to fund special events and encourage large crowds to gather while our nation is in the middle of a pandemic.”
The $13 million celebration also emptied the city’s Emergency Planning and Security Fund, according to a letter Mayor Muriel Bowser sent to Trump last year. Bowser said the city spent about $1.7 million on Trump’s “July 4th holiday activities and subsequent first amendment demonstrations.”
Bowser is urging visitors and residents of the nation’s capital to stay home this Fourth of July, saying Thursday, “We want to send a message to our residents to enjoy the Fourth of July, to celebrate, according to our guidance, and to do it at home.”
Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Christal Hayes