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'This says something': Thousands gather in Washington for Donald Trump's 4th of July celebration

WASHINGTON – Tanks, protests and fireworks, oh my! 

Thousands gathered Thursday in the nation’s capital to celebrate the birth of America for its annual fireworks event, which featured Army tanks, a flyover of military jets, Air Force One and fireworks. The centerpiece? A speech from President Donald Trump — the first time in decades that a president has addressed the crowd.

Trump faced criticisms over the costs of the event and has been accused of injecting politics into a traditionally nonpartisan event. This year’s celebration hasn’t just attracted tourists, area residents and families looking to observe the holiday. Both protesters and supporters of the president descended on the heart of Washington D.C. 

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‘This says something’

Many people donning the MAGA hats stopped one another along the National Mall when they saw others wearing the same hat or shirt, yelling “Make America Great Again” or “Go Trump!”

Jim Sutton usually attends the parade each year with his wife, Gigi. But the couple, who sported head-to-toe Trump gear, said something felt different this year.

“It’s just fantastic,” Gigi Sutton said, in her white Trump T-shirt and flag pants.

The pair said the criticism aimed at Trump’s use of military equipment in the event was unwarranted.

“We’ve been having all these problems with Iran, North Korea. This says something,” Gigi Sutton said. Her husband chimed in, “it lets the world know our nation’s defense is well at hand.”

Security was particularly tight in the city leading up to Trump’s speech later in the evening. Authorities blocked off several blocks surrounding the Lincoln Memorial. Large tan, military vehicle blocked entryway into the memorial with Army National Guardsmen packing into the beds of pickup trucks ready for the day’s festivities.

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  • A city workers hangs flags along Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC, July 2, 2019 as the National Mall is being prepared for the traditional Independence Day celebration as well as President Trump's Salute to America that will include tanks, armored vehicles, military flyovers and a nationally televised addressed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. 1 of 15
  • Preparations are underway for Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC as they set up for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day at the Lincoln Memorial, July 2, 2019, in Washington. 2 of 15
  • A worker washes one of two M1A1 Abrams tanks that are loaded on rail cars at a rail yard on July 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump asked the Pentagon for military hardware, including tanks, to be displayed during Thursdays July 4th Salute to America celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.3 of 15
  • Workers build a stage and bleachers for the Salute to America Fourth of July event on the National Mall in Washington, DC, July 1, 2019. 4 of 15
  • Workers set up for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day at the Lincoln Memorial, July 2, 2019, in Washington. 5 of 15
  • Visitors navigate temporary fencing installed along the National Mall as workers set up for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day at the Lincoln Memorial, July 2, 2019, in Washington. 6 of 15
  • Preparations are underway for Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC. 7 of 15
  • Visitors are limited to a single walkway along the Reflecting Pool as workers set up for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches at the Lincoln Memorial on Independence Day, July 2, 2019, in Washington.8 of 15
  • Preparations for President Donald J. Trump's Salute to America continue as tourists visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, July 2, 2019. 9 of 15
  • Two M1A1 Abrams tanks and other military vehicles sit on guarded rail cars at a rail yard on July 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump asked the Pentagon for military hardware, including tanks, to be displayed during the 4th of July Salute To America on the National Mall. 10 of 15
  • A worker carries a security camera to be installed at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of Thursdays July 4th Salute to America celebration, on July 2, 2019 in Washington, DC.11 of 15
  • Workers install fencing at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of Thursdays July 4th Salute to America celebration, on July 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. 12 of 15
  • Jogger Janice Wright yells photobomb as she runs past the Lincoln Memorial ahead of Thursdays July 4th Salute to America celebration, on July 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. 13 of 15
  • A fire extinguisher sits near a row of loaded firework launchers at West Potomac Park ahead of Thursdays July 4th Salute to America celebration, on July 2, 2019 in Washington, DC. 14 of 15
  • Preparations are underway for Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC as they set up for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day at the Lincoln Memorial, July 2, 2019, in Washington. 15 of 15

Protests galore 

Dozens of protesters opposing Trump gathered in the sweltering humidity to spout off about the administration, its policies and the rhetoric from the commander in Chief.  With a backdrop of the Washington Monument, many posed for photos with a giant robot showing the president sitting on a golden toilet, cell phone in hand.

The liberal activist organization Code Pink inflated a Baby Trump blimp, depicting an orange-hued Trump in a diaper clutching a Twitter-ready cell phone in his right hand. It has become a fixture at major protests including recently in London and at the U.S.-Mexico border. The balloon was later deflated because of wind on the Mall. 

Activists also brought a 16-foot-tall “Dumping Trump” robot featuring the president sitting on a golden toilet wearing a MAGA-style hat saying “Make America Great Again: Impeach Me.”

Trump supporters walked by the contraption, some yelling things like “snowflakes” to the crowd while another crowd of Trump supporters chanted “I love America.” 

Others just walked by.

“I just ignore it. It’s disrespectful but nothing new,” said Eva Salcido, who traveled from Texas with her sister to see the nation’s capital for the first time.

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Two military veterans groups are also planning to hand out T-shirts on the Mall “to honor the military service and sacrifice” of the family of John McCain, the late GOP senator with whom Trump has feuded. 

VoteVets – a liberal political action committee that almost exclusively backs Democratic candidates, according to OpenSecrets – is teaming up with Rags of Honor – a screen printing shop that employs homeless veterans – to give out the “Big Bad John” shirts depicting the USS John S. McCain.

There’s also a flag-burning protest planned, which was organized by Gregory Lee Johnson — the man at the center of the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court case that held the burning of the U.S. flag is constitutionally protected free speech. 

“I am going to D.C. on the Fourth of July and I’m going to burn the flag in protest (of his) whole fascist agenda,” Johnson told USA TODAY before the event. “Think about all Trump has done to whip people into a frenzy.”

DC bar owners Peyton Sherwood and Frederick Uku distributed small balloon versions of the “Baby Trump” blimp to parade protesters and said that they were exercising their First Amendment rights. 

Trump starts his day golfing, tweeting

As he prepared to deliver an evening speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, President Donald Trump spent the afternoon playing golf and tweeting about politics.

While heading to his golf club in suburban Virginia, Trump tweeted an attack on Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., for announcing he was leaving the Republican Party because it is not responding to the nation’s problems. “A total loser,” Trump called him.

Amish, who has said the House should open an impeachment inquiry over allegations that Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation, announced his departure from the GOP in a Washington Post op-ed.

In a tweet, Trump called Amash’s decision “great news for the Republican Party,” and described him as “one of the dumbest most disloyal men in Congress.”

On another political front, Trump tweeted about his efforts to still get a citizenship question onto the 2020 U.S. Census, despite an adverse decision last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump tweeted that “Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice are working very hard on this, even on the 4th of July!”

The fact is government attorneys had no choice but to work Thursday; a judge in the case gave them a Friday deadline to file arguments on how they think they think they can attach a citizenship questions consistent with the Supreme Court decision.

Trump also tweeted a pledge to deliver a non-partisan speech – “I will speak on behalf of our great Country!” he tweeted – but critics say his “Salute to America” program is more like a salute to the president’s re-election bid.

Protesting that national parks fees are being used to help finance Trump’s event, Rep. Betty McCollum, DFL-Minn., “are meant to improve our national parks” and “are clearly not to be used for a political rally.”

Trump’s speech is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.; rain is in the weather forecast.

Criticisms over price, politicizing the holiday 

Critics and lawmakers, including several candidates in the 2020 White House race, have attacked the president for the extravaganza amid questions about its expense and concerns that he is politicizing the annual celebration. 

Many have focused on a report from The Washington Post that the National Park Service was diverting nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees primarily intended to improve parks across the country to help cover the costs. An aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plans told USA TODAY a preliminary estimate for transporting and displaying the military tanks is about $870,000.

CLOSE

President Donald Trump is marshalling tanks, bombers and other machinery of war for a Fourth of July celebration that traditionally is light on military might, while critics accused him of using America’s military as a political prop. (July 3)
AP, AP

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2020 candidates used the event as a line of attack on the president, a sign that the celebration had become a partisan flash point.

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado said the program was “a political spectacle – at the expense of taxpayers and our National Parks.” Marianne Williamson said that watching tanks on the streets of the nation’s capital was “heartbreaking repugnant.” Andrew Yang said politicizing the military for Independence Day was costly and would set a “terrible precedent.”

But Trump has defended the celebration and dismissed criticisms on Twitter by saying “it will be the show of a lifetime!”

“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth,” Trump wrote. “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!”

Contributing: Max Cohen, Sarah Elbeshbishi, Nicholas Wu, Ledyard King and Michael Collins 

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