White House says Trump's July Fourth will be patriotic, not political

White House says Trump's July Fourth will be patriotic, not political
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as U.S. first lady Melania Trump listens during a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts -
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JOSHUA ROBERTS(Reuters)
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By Andy Sullivan and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House officials on Tuesday said President Trump will avoid politics and stick to patriotic themes in a high-profile July Fourth speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington amid questions about the cost and tone of the celebration.

U.S. battle tanks were spotted on a cargo train in Washington on Tuesday morning, a sign of the military firepower that will be featured as part of a July Fourth celebration that will differ significantly from past events.

For decades, U.S. presidents have kept a low profile during Washington’s annual celebration of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which typically draws hundreds of thousands of people to Washington’s monument-lined National Mall for a nonpartisan concert and fireworks.

This year, Trump plans to speak at a military “Salute to America” that will feature military bands and flyovers from the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and Air Force One, the modified Boeing 747 that transports U.S. presidents.

The event could also feature M1 Abrams battle tanks, a B-2 bomber, F-35 and F-22 fighter jets, and the Marine One helicopter that transports the president, the Pentagon said. Air traffic at nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport will be suspended during the flyovers and the fireworks, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Democrats in Congress have questioned whether Trump will turn a nonpartisan patriotic celebration into a taxpayer-funded campaign rally.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous. This is all about a salute to America. The president is not going to get political,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox Business Network on Tuesday.

The administration to date has not said how much Trump’s pumped-up July Fourth celebration will cost. The Pentagon postponed a military parade planned for last November after it estimated it could cost $90 million.

“It is unacceptable that the Interior Department is failing to inform Congress about how it plans to spend taxpayer money to fund the president’s lavish July 4th plans, which reportedly include special access to the National Mall for the politically connected,” Democratic Senator Tom Udall said in a statement.

A VIP section set up near the Lincoln Memorial will be open to government officials and lawmakers, according to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity. In previous years, government officials and other VIPs have watched the fireworks from the White House lawn.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Kevin Fogarty, Makini Brice and Susan Heavey)

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