WASHINGTON – The explosion of coronavirus cases isn't stopping President Donald Trump from hosting a July 4th party Saturday at the White House, despite objections from public health officials.
This year's Independence Day event is somewhat scaled back – there won't be armored military vehicles on display at the Lincoln Memorial, as happened last year – but the White House still plans to host hundreds of people on the South Lawn for music and fireworks.
The fight against the coronavirus pandemic is even a theme of what the White House calls a "Salute to America." Invited guests include doctors, nurses, and other front-line responders to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as members of the military, law enforcement and their families.
"The American people have shown tremendous courage and spirit, particularly our amazing frontline workers, in the fight against this global pandemic just as our forefathers did in the fight to secure our independence," the White House said in a statement.
Given the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, the White House said it will provide face masks and hand sanitizer to guests, and encourage social distancing. Some guests will be on the Ellipse just south of the White House.
The preparations underscore the unnecessary risks of the event, some lawmakers said.
“The President, as he has since February, continues to insist that the virus will simply disappear, and the Administration’s response continues to be guided by wishful thinking," said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., whose district includes suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Beyer, who has accused Trump of again "using the military to stage yet another costly political photo op," said the president's approach is "not a strategy for ending a pandemic."
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Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, who canceled the traditional Fourth of July parade in the nation's capital, said her office informed Trump's Interior Department that the event it is planning violates the health guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are giving D.C. residents the same message about any of their outings for the holiday weekend," Bowser told reporters. "Ask yourself, 'Do you need to be there?'"
As of Thursday, the United States had set new COVID-19 daily case records in six of the past nine days, including at least 52,000 cases on Thursday itself. More than 2.8 million Americans have contracted the virus nationwide, and more than 131,000 have died.
Still, thousands of people are expected to gather up and down the National Mall to watch fireworks.
Trump, who last year gave a prepared speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, is scheduled to make remarks during Saturday's event in the early evening at the White House.
The event will also feature music, military demonstrations, and aircraft flyovers, as well as the annual fireworks extravaganza over the National Mall, the White House said.
Trump had a higher profile celebration on Friday, traveling to South Dakota to watch a fireworks show over Mount Rushmore. "It's going to be very exciting, it's going to be beautiful," Trump said in previewing his Fourth of July weekend.
Trump celebrates at a fraught time in his presidency. A series of polls show Trump slipping farther behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the November election. There are also renewed questions about his friendly relationship Russia President Vladimir Putin, in light of reports that the Russians may have paid bounties to Taliban fighters for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The American president is also under attack for a shaky response to the COVID-19 pandemic, although he celebrated improving job numbers Thursday.
The South Lawn of the White House won't be the only place for large gatherings on Independence Day in the nation's capital.
Civil rights groups are expected to gather near the White House for continuing demonstrations against police brutality and racial discrimination. The protests stem from the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In preparation, security personnel have re-installed tall black fences around the White House complex.
Trump took heat over the scale and expense of last year's July Fourth event, which wound up costing taxpayers $13 million, according to the Government Accountability Office.
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On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, standing behind rain-streaked bulletproof glass, Trump gave a speech paying tribute to all five branches of the military – plus the newly created Space Force
The event featured a series of flyovers, including a B-2 stealth bomber, F-22 raptors, the Navy Blue Angels, and even the jumbo plane that is designated Air Force One when Trump flies in it.
Some of those same types of planes will fly over the National Mall this year as well.
Trump also made one of his most famous gaffes in his last July 4 speech. Saluting the colonial military forces that defeated the British in the American Revolution, Trump said: "Our Army manned the air ... it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports."
There were no airplanes or airports the late 18th Century. Trump later blamed a teleprompter problem.
Some lawmakers said Trump made last year's July 4 speech and event too much about himself, and he is doing the same thing this year in the era of COVID-19.
Said Beyer: "It is clear he is willing to put others at risk in order to prop up his own fragile ego."