Congress

Democrat wants Trump to pay if ‘authoritarian-style’ July 4 event damages infrastructure

Virginia Rep. calls on the president to reach into his own pocket if D.C. streets or bridges require repairs

A visitor stands in front of temporary fencing installed along the National Mall as setup continues for President Donald Trump’s “Salute to America” event honoring service branches on Independence Day at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump should pay out of his own pocket for any infrastructure damage incurred by rolling 70-ton tanks onto the National Mall, according to the Democratic congressman who represents the D.C. suburbs in Virginia.

Rep. Don Beyer described Trump’s plan to showcase tanks during the city’s Fourth of July celebration as “an authoritarian-style marshal display” in a statement Tuesday. He called on the president to reach into his own pocket if D.C. streets or bridges require repairs from having to handle the massive vehicles. 

[Flyovers, military bands … and tanks? Here’s what we know about the July Fourth celebrations in D.C.]

“Since President Trump is turning the region’s beloved annual tradition into a campaign event focused on himself, he should personally reimburse U.S. taxpayers and local governments for any damage to local infrastructure,” Beyer said.

Armored vehicles were transported from Fort Stewart in Georgia earlier this week and stored on railroad tracks in Southeast D.C. They lumbered over the Potomac and past Nationals Park on massive flatbed trailers Tuesday night before being hauled onto the National Mall, according to press reports and posts on social media

The White House has brushed off concerns from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, national parks advocates and the D.C. City Council that tanks could tear up the District’s streets or grind up the newly refurbished National Mall. Congress allocated $21.4 million in taxpayer funding to reconstructing the National Mall in fiscal year 2018 alone, according to budget documents. 

“We have to make sure we’re not making a huge national infrastructure problem worse by this essentially vainglorious display of his own need for celebrity,” Beyer elaborated in an interview with CNN Tuesday morning, reiterating his call for Trump to foot the bill. 

“Although, don’t expect it,” Beyer said.

The Democrat, who grew up in the area around Washington, also pointed out during his interview that the Trump administration still owes millions in overdue costs to the District of Columbia for the 2017 inauguration ceremony. 

Beyer’s district includes the Arlington Memorial Bridge. A New York Times report raised concerns earlier this week that the historic bridge could buckle under the weight of tanks. 

Democrats have voiced dismay as details of the president’s “Salute to America” Fourth of July plans have trickled out in press reports.

dc_traffic_map_july_4

Both the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Park Service have withheld any estimates of how much the exhibition of military hardware will cost.

The Washington Post reported that $2.5 million will be siphoned from fees devoted to park improvements, prompting criticism from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner. Overdue park repairs already face a multibillion-dollar backlog, according to the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association. 

Trump promised the “show of a lifetime” in a tweet Wednesday morning. He also responded to those criticizing the cost of the event, saying it will “be very little compared to what it is worth.” The Pentagon has not released the estimated cost for the military display, but approximations reported by The Washington Post suggest the price tag of the flyover by military aircraft could climb into the millions.

The president will deliver his Fourth of July speech outside the Lincoln Memorial, flanked by tanks on the National Mall and a flyover of a fleet of military aircraft overhead, amid the more traditional festivities, according to the Department of the Interior.

Trump’s planned speech marks the first time a president has spoken at the event since 1951, stoking concerns that Trump has siphoned millions in taxpayer funds for a de facto campaign rally. The law forbids using money belonging to federal agencies or their contractors for the purposes of propaganda, Senate Democrats overseeing government appropriations have pointed out.

Critics also say refashioning a venue synonymous with Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington into a nationalistic spectacle is likely to attract protesters to what is traditionally a nonpartisan affair. 

“This must be the most insecure man I’ve ever met, because everything is about him,” Beyer said in the CNN interview. “We’ve never seen anything like this. It reminds me of some small, autocratic country.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.