Roughly one hour before President Donald Trump was set to deliver his Fourth of July speech at the Lincoln Memorial, obstacles kept cropping up for a White House determined to pull off a memorable celebration.
The weather was not cooperating, with scattered showers and thunderstorms throughout Washington, D.C. early Thursday afternoon. The VIP area was cordoned off with fences, so only ticketed guests could view up close the military tanks Trump had fought to include in the celebration known as “Salute to America.”
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Several top military officers made it clear they did not intend to go to Trump’s speech. They disapproved of what they saw as an attempt to politicize the military, making it a prop in what they saw as a dressed-up campaign speech.
And the full price tag of the taxpayer-funded event remained murky.
All the while, Trump was hyping the event on his preferred medium of Twitter and keeping watch over the size of the crowd — a sticking point for him dating back to his inauguration.
“Looks like a lot of people already heading to SALUTE TO AMERICA at Lincoln Memorial. It will be well worth the trip and wait. See you there at 6:00 P.M. Amazing music and bands. Thank you ARMY!,” he wrote.
The president is scheduled to deliver his speech at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday — making it a first for a president in recent history to insert himself into the celebration of Independence Day. He’ll speak for roughly 20 to 30 minutes at the Lincoln Memorial before the Reflecting Pool, as some VIP guests sit nearby in white folding chairs.
Trump is expected to give broad remarks about the history of the country that are part lesson and part pep talk, according to a handful of excerpts released by the White House in advance.
“That same American Spirit that emboldened our founders has kept us strong throughout our history. To this day, that spirit runs through the veins of every American patriot. It lives on in each and every one of YOU,” he will say, according to the prepared remarks.
“Today, just as it did 243 years ago, the future of American Freedom rests on the shoulders of men and women willing to defend it,” Trump will say. “As long as we stay true to our cause—as long as we remember our great history—and as long as we never stop fighting for a better future—then there will be NOTHING that America cannot do.”
White House aides have insisted the apolitical speech will honor the country’s patriotism and not delve into the divisive rhetoric that fueled Trump’s rise. But Trump is his own best messenger and strategist, as his top aides like to say, and he often adds his own asides to prepared remarks.
The president has delivered unifying, stick-to-the script speeches before, including his recent comments at a D-Day commemoration ceremony in France. But more often, he turns seemingly non-partisan moments, like a speech before the Boy Scouts or troops in Iraq, into a mini-Trump rally.
Trump’s allies were already gunning for his critics hours before the speech even began. Fox host and immigration hawk Lou Dobbs went after military generals who’d decided to sit out the festivities. “No wonder these Snowflake Generals haven’t won a war since 1991,” Dobbs wrote on Twitter before linking to a news article about military chiefs who were concerned about the event.
The president also kicked off the day with a combative note. En route to his morning golf outing, Trump called out on Twitter Rep. Justin Amash, who announced he was leaving the Republican Party amid his concerns over Trump’s leadership and the facts laid out in the Mueller report.
“Great news for the Republican Party as one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress is “quitting” the Party,” Trump wrote. “No Collusion, No Obstruction! Knew he couldn’t get the nomination to run again in the Great State of Michigan. Already being challenged for his seat. A total loser!”