The exact cost of President Donald Trump’s unprecedented Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall, complete with tanks, military flyovers, and VIP areas, will likely remain a mystery for some time. But as more information is released, it’s clear that taxpayers will be on the hook for millions.
On Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wrote a letter to Trump, obtained by The Washington Post, informing him that the cost of the Salute to America event, coupled with the one-time cost of Trump’s 2017 inauguration, has resulted in D.C.’s Emergency Planning and Security Fund (EPSF) going bankrupt.
“Considering this accruing deficit, our projections indicate that the EPSF will be depleted following your additional July 4th holiday activities and subsequent first amendment demonstrations,” Bowser wrote. “The accrued amount for the July 4th holiday totals approximately $1.7 million.”
She asked for his help in getting more funding to replenish the fund for future expenditures.
Trump said on Twitter July 3rd that the cost “will be very little compared to what it is worth.”
The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2019
The event took on a political tone because of Trump and the Republican National Committee’s interference in what is normally a nonpartisan event. Unlike previous national Independence Day celebrations where the president and his guests remain on White House grounds, Trump decided to take over parts of the National Mall instead of leaving the area open to the public. There was a VIP area where donors and political supporters got ticketed access. Trump asked for tanks to be a part of the event, and there were seven military flyovers.
D.C. provided public safety to this gathering, in addition to crowds of protesters — much as it has done for inaugurations, state funerals, and other protests — which costs money.
The White House did not respond to request for comment on Bowser’s letter or for a summary of the costs associated with the event.
On Monday, the Pentagon disclosed that it spent $1.2 million on costs associated with the event. This may or may not include the cost of the seven flyovers from all branches of the military and a plane that can be used as Air Force One. The cost of the flyovers came from military training budgets that require pilots to log hours in various aircraft. This muddies the waters from a budgetary standpoint.
The White House diverted $2.5 million from a National Park Service (NPS) fund devoted to improving and maintaining parks around the country to help pay for the event. For just this transfer from NPS, a ThinkProgress analysis found that Trump — who touted his donation of the first quarter of his salary to NPS in 2017 — would have to make a similar payment 31 more times to offset the cost of his event.
It’s unclear where the $2.5 million in NPS funding was directed — associated costs borne by the Interior Department’s handling of the Fourth event, which took place on the National Mall, which is NPS property — or if it was meant for other costs from other agencies.
There are likely additional costs associated with the event that have yet to be tabulated or disclosed.
To that end, on Monday, some congressional Democrats called on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate spending on the event.
“Congress did not specifically provide funds to cover the costs of the President’s expanded Fourth of July events, and we are very concerned by the impacts and the precedent of diverting limited Federal resources — including the use of military personnel, equipment and aircraft as well as other appropriations or visitor fees paid to improve national parks — to organize and execute unbudgeted events,” Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) wrote in a letter to the GAO.
At a White House event on the same day, Trump pledged to do the same thing again next year. “It was a wonderful day for all Americans, and based on its tremendous success, we’re just making the decision — and I can think we can say we’ve made the decision — to do it again next year, and, maybe we can say, for the foreseeable future,” he said.