Lawmakers urge Trump to cancel DC's July 4 event: 'Impossible to put on safely'

Lawmakers urge Trump to cancel DC's July 4 event: 'Impossible to put on safely'
© Aaron Schwartz

A group of lawmakers representing the National Capital Region is calling for the Trump administration to drop plans to hold a second "Salute to America" Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C.

In a letter sent to the secretaries of the Defense and Interior on Tuesday, the group of 10 lawmakers expressed "serious concerns" about the possibility of an event bringing thousands of people to the capital amid the coronavirus outbreak.

They noted stay-at-home orders in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland are still in effect and that restrictions on public gatherings will likely continue into the summer. 

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"Given the current COVID-19 crisis, we believe such an event would needlessly risk the health and safety of thousands of Americans," the lawmakers wrote. The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and signed by Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinPelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  MORE (D-Md.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Mid-Atlantic states sue EPA over Chesapeake Bay pollution MORE (D-Md.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' MORE (D-Md.), among others.

"Further, this event would come at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars while we are facing an unprecedented economic downturn due to the pandemic," they added. 

Trump's "Salute to America" rally in 2019 brought thousands of people to Washington, D.C., and the National Mall. The event was capped with a speech from the president at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and featured a fireworks show and a flyover by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

In total, the celebration cost the government about $5 million. The figure included costs accrued by the Interior Department, National Park Service, District of Columbia and Defense Department.

Trump said in April that he still planned to host another July 4 celebration at the capital this year, even if it meant finding ways to maintain social distancing. 

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White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Hill in a statement on Wednesday that "there will be an Independence Day celebration this year and it will have a different look than 2019 to ensure the health and safety of those attending."

"The American people have shown tremendous courage and spirit in the fight against this global pandemic just as our forefathers did in the fight to secure our independence, and both deserve celebration on America’s birthday this year," Deere said, pointing to Trump's previous comments. 

But the lawmakers argued in their letter that the event "would exceed public gathering best practices and significantly increase the threat of community spread of COVID-19." 

"Given the number of individuals that would try to attend such an event, logistically such an event would be impossible to put on safely," they said. "The administration should be focusing on helping American families, not on a vanity project for the president."

Under Washington, D.C.'s, reopening plan, public outdoor events such as parades and festivals must have significant limits, WAMU reported. Stage one of the reopening plan would reportedly limit public gatherings to 10 people and Stage 3 would limit them to 250 people. The city had yet to enter stage one of its reopening plan as of Wednesday.  

As of Wednesday morning, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland had confirmed a combined 97,078 cases of COVID-19, with 4,118 deaths, according to a tally maintained by The Washington Post.