WASHINGTON - House Democratic leaders are protesting President Donald Trump's decision to place himself at the center of the national Fourth of July celebration on the Mall, saying his planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial would waste taxpayer dollars and impart a partisan flavor to what has traditionally been an apolitical event.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the president, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. - joined by Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, and Betty McCollum, D-Minn., chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies - said the event "could create the appearance of a televised, partisan campaign rally on the Mall at public expense."
The Washington Post first reported last month that the president was deeply involved in organizing changes to the annual event, which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors. Calling the program "A Salute to America," Trump will address the nation and is moving the celebration's fireworks to West Potomac Park.
On Wednesday, D.C. and federal officials confirmed that the speech is taking place but said details - including its duration and timing - are still in the works.
No estimate of the cost of the president's changes has been made public. National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said security costs stemming from Trump's appearance would be shared by the White House, Park Service and U.S. Park Police.
Embraced by some of the president's supporters, the plan has also been panned by critics who say it will alter the family-friendly, nonpartisan atmosphere of one of Washington's most popular summertime traditions.
City officials are warning of the logistical hurdles involved, noting that Trump's movements to and from the Mall would require extra security and could cut off visitor access to nearby Metro stations.
The letter from Hoyer, Grijalva and McCollum reprises those concerns, adding that expenses associated with the president's appearance could divert money from other Park Service needs.
"If the park unit is forced to absorb additional costs it will have to make reductions in other areas, such as visitor services or facilities operation and maintenance," the letter states.
It asks that Trump consider holding his event before the main Independence Day gathering or giving his speech at a different location.
Previous presidents have held large gatherings at monuments in the nation's capital.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton appeared at a concert at the Lincoln Memorial on New Year's Eve. Clinton's supporters underwrote the event with private donations, but the National Park Service helped facilitate the event.
President Ronald Reagan participated in a "Star Spangled Salute to America" at the Jefferson Memorial on July 3, 1987, which showcased an economic announcement, but the regular fireworks celebration happened the next day as usual.
Still, at a time when the president is squaring off with House Democrats on a broad range of issues and candidates are gearing up for the 2020 presidential election, critics say Trump's appearance would inevitably carry partisan notes and could lead to demonstrations from both sides of the political spectrum.
"The Fourth of July celebration is not about any one person," McCollum said in a statement. "It is not a time for campaigning - but a time to celebrate our unity as a free nation."
This article was written by Peter Jamison and Juliet Eilperin, reporters for The Washington Post.