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Trump Takes Center Stage at July 4th 'Salute to America' Event With Jets, Tanks

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President Donald Trump is getting what he wants for the nation’s birthday: a celebration featuring fireworks, fighter jets and tanks that makes him the center of attention.

Trump will speak from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Thursday evening, remaking the capital’s July 4th festivities into a display of military might mixed with presidential politics. The White House said Trump’s message won’t be political -- Trump is calling the speech a “Salute to America” -- but it comes as the 2020 campaign is heating up.

“Today, we come together as one nation,” Trump said in an excerpt of his speech released by the White House. “We celebrate our history, our people, and the heroes who proudly defend our flag -- the brave men and women of the United States military!”

The city hosted a parade earlier in the day before the evening program on the National Mall, which is scheduled to include flyovers by fighter jets, bombers and even Air Force One, and the Trump speech.

Trump has promised the “show of a lifetime,” but it may not go entirely the president’s way. Afternoon rains and forecasts of scattered thunderstorms prompted a flash-flood watch alert. And some aides privately fear crowds won’t meet the president’s expectations -- evoking his 2017 inauguration.

Protesters have a permit to display an inflatable version of the president that depicts him as a baby in a diaper with small hands. A similar blimp has greeted Trump on trips to London, but the Washington version won’t be allowed to leave the ground. The protesters deflated their blimp on Thursday as storms threatened the area.

Trump is effectively rebranding a celebration that attracts thousands of families to watch the fireworks but almost never includes presidential speeches on the Mall. Critics say his revisions risk turning Washington’s July 4th into a de-facto Trump rally that’s likely to draw counter-protests.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said in a speech in Iowa Thursday that for Trump, the event was “designed more to stroke his ego than celebrate American ideals.”

“Donald Trump is incapable of celebrating what makes America great -- because he doesn’t get it,” the former vice president said in prepared remarks.

The White House rejected the idea that the celebration would be political. Trump told reporters on Monday that the event will be “about this country and it’s a salute to America.” He said he hoped for a large turnout. Asked if he could give a speech to all Americans, Trump replied: “I think so, I think I’ve reached most Americans.” He went on to criticize Democrats on health care and taxes.

Trump conceived the event after his plans for a military parade on Veterans Day were stymied by complaints from local officials about the cost. The president has been enamored of the idea of a Washington celebration with a military component since attending the 2017 Bastille Day parade in Paris, which included an aerial display, thousands of marching soldiers and hundreds of military vehicles.

The Defense Department said Tuesday that it would provide a pair of M1A2 Abrams tanks and two M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles for the event. They were delivered on flatbed trucks ahead of Thursday’s event, to avoid damaging streets.

There will be several flyovers, including by the Navy’s Blue Angels flight team. The air show will also include Air Force One, a Marine One presidential helicopter, two F-35 fighter jets, two F-22 Raptors, two F/A-18 Hornets, a B2 bomber and four Apache helicopters.

The event also is renewing a long-simmering feud with local officials in Washington. The city has said it’s still owed about $7 million from costs associated with Trump’s inauguration but the administration official said the District hasn’t asked for funds from upcoming federal budgets.

Trump said Wednesday on Twitter that the cost of the event “will be very little compared to what it is worth,” while the administration official earlier declined to say how bill would be covered. Norton said Trump is “doubling up, tripling up on what he owes the District of Columbia.”

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