Trump takes over Fourth of July celebration, plans to insert himself into programme

US President Donald Trump is making tentative plans to address the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, according to top administration officials.
US President Donald Trump is making tentative plans to address the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, according to top administration officials.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - President Trump has effectively taken charge of the nation's premier Fourth of July celebration in Washington, moving the gargantuan fireworks display from its usual spot on the Mall in Washington, to be closer to the Potomac River. He is also making tentative plans to address the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, according to top administration officials.

The president's starring role has the potential to turn what has long been a nonpartisan celebration of the nation's founding into another version of a Trump campaign rally.

Officials said it is unclear how much the changes may cost, but the plans have already raised alarms among city officials and some lawmakers about the potential impact of such major alterations to a time-honoured and well-organised summer tradition.

Fireworks on the Mall, which the National Park Service has orchestrated for more than half a century, draw hundreds of thousands of Americans annually and mark one of the highlights of the city's tourist season.

The event has been broadcast live on television since 1947 and since 1981 has been accompanied by a free concert on the West Lawn of the US Capitol featuring high-profile musicians and a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra.

The new event, to be called "A Salute to America", will shift the fireworks launch to West Potomac Park, less than a mile (1.6km) southwest of its usual location near the Washington Monument.

In addition to a possible address by Mr Trump, the location may feature a second stage of entertainment apart from the performers at the Capitol, officials said.

The revised Independence Day celebration is the culmination of two years of attempts by Mr Trump to create a major patriotic event centered on him and his supporters, including failed efforts to mount a military parade modeled on the Bastille Day celebration in France.

The new event has become a top priority for new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whom Mr Trump tasked with the job three months ago, officials said.

The president has received regular briefings on the effort in the Oval Office and has gotten involved in the minutiae of the planning - even discussing whether the fireworks should be launched from a barge in the Potomac River, administration aides said.

The president has shown interest in the event that he often does not exhibit for other administration priorities, the aides added.

"I think the president is excited about the idea, and we're working hard on it, and I think it could be very, very meaningful," Mr Bernhardt said in an interview. "The president loves the idea, as probably all Americans do, of celebrating America on the Fourth of July, or thereabouts."

Rep. Betty McCollum (Democrat-Minnesota), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, said in an interview that she is concerned that Mr Trump could polarise what is typically a unifying event for Americans.

"It's not about any one president. It's about how our nation came to be, because of a hardy band of brave men and women," she said. "It's not about any one person, it's about 'We, the people.' And if the president moves to make this about him, I think he will find the American public disappointed and angered by it."

An official in the administration of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (Democrat) said federal officials have informed the city government of potential changes to the Fourth of July celebration but that the logistics and cost of the altered format had not been finalised.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss preparations for the event, said the city was concerned about moving the fireworks and about the logistics of the president traveling to the Mall to address the crowds, which could cut off the flow of visitors to and from nearby Metro stations.

"We have a lot of people come to the Fourth of July. Logistically, over the years, the kinks have been worked out," the official said. "We don't want to throw off what already works."

The president's idea for a Trump-influenced Fourth of July celebration began within hours of attending a lavish Bastille Day parade in Paris in 2017, former aides say.

Before Air Force One took off to return from France, Mr Trump came to the back of the staff cabin and laid out the particulars of a proposed military parade in Washington - down to the types of tanks that he wanted in the streets and the kind of aircraft he wanted to fly overhead.

The idea later shifted to become a Veterans Day-linked parade instead, before collapsing altogether last August as costs for the potential event ballooned. Mr Trump blamed local officials in canceling the event.

Then, this past February, Mr Trump announced on Twitter that Americans should "HOLD THE DATE!" on July 4 for a "Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!"

There have been no public announcements since then, but federal officials are working furiously to adjust plans for an event that has been largely unchanged for at least two decades.