President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE’s expanded Fourth of July celebrations last year cost double that of previous years, siphoning some $13 million in taxpayer funds.
The expanded event, which was redesigned by Trump to include a larger fireworks show, a military display and a speech from himself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, outpaced the $6 million to $7 million spent the three years prior, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“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 study found.
The report comes as lawmakers are concerned this year’s celebration will likewise be costly while also carrying significant risk for spreading the coronavirus.
“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,” Democratic Sens. Tom UdallTom UdallRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (N.M.), Pat Leahy (Vt.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenReal relief from high gas prices Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama MORE (Md.), who requested the report, said in a statement.
“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," they added.
Last year’s event spurred controversy more than a year before it took place, with Trump saying in 2018 he wanted a parade “like the one in France” after attending a Bastille Day celebration there.
Plans to parade tanks down Pennsylvania Avenue were nixed due to costs, but Trump tweeted in February 2019 that a similar event would take place.
“HOLD THE DATE!” Trump said of the "A Salute To America" event. “Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!”
The $13 million event also proved to be expensive for local entities, completely wiping out D.C.’s annual funding for events.
The lawmakers have already requested that GAO review the planning and coordination for this year’s event, examining not only funding but coronavirus preparation.
The 2020 event will be held at Mt. Rushmore, where fireworks were previously barred due to wildfire concerns, and tickets will be given away by lottery.
“We remain concerned that the president again 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, and we want to ensure the administration’s actions are consistent with the principles of Federal appropriations law,” they wrote.
“We are also concerned about the prospect of large public events in the midst of a dangerous surge in COVID-19 pandemic infections in many states across the country,” they said, calling the event a public health risk.
The White House pushed back against the criticism.
“Salute to America is not about politics, it’s about all Americans coming together to celebrate Independence Day, our great armed forces and their heroic sacrifices, which have preserved our freedoms for generations, and our amazing heritage," the White House said in a statement to The Hill. "As President Trump has said, this year’s Salute to America will have a different look than 2019 to ensure the health and safety of those attending."