With fewer than six weeks until Independence Day, local and federal officials are growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of a Fourth of July event on the National Mall.
President Donald Trump has made no indication that he plans to cancel the second annual "Salute to America" Independence Day event. However, the National Park Service has not received details about what the event will entail and how attendees will be kept safe from coronavirus. It appears the event will also violate D.C.'s rules for reopening.
"Given the number of individuals that would try to attend such an event, logistically such an event would be impossible to put on safely," they wrote, citing the fact that the D.C. region is still experiencing high COVID-19 transmission rates.
The letter was led by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and co-signed by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Anthony Brown (D-MD) and David Trone (D-MD).
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The lawmakers also noted the strain the event would put on the city's budget, its partially-closed public transportation system and the health of its public safety officers.
Typically, the Park Service coordinates with the D.C. government to host fireworks and a concert on the National Mall. Last year was a departure from the norm: President Trump decided to expand the event into a celebration of the military called "Salute to America," though city officials were kept in the dark about the event's details until a few weeks before.
"In the aftermath of last year's event, National Park Service officials expressed optimism about having an entire year to plan for what had been a four-month scramble in pulling off the inaugural 'Salute to America,'" a Park Service official told WAMU on the condition of anonymity in order to speak about the event. But like last year, Memorial Day passed with no official announcement about plans for the event.
Trump last mentioned July 4th during an April 22 coronavirus briefing. "Last year was a tremendous success, and I would imagine we'll do it, hopefully I can use the term 'forever,'" he said.
He noted at the time that this year's attendees will likely need to follow social distancing guidelines and stand six feet apart from one another. "We'll have to do that in a very interesting way," he said. "Maybe we'll even do it greater. Leave a little extra distance. But if we do that, we'd certainly do that."
Trump acknowledged that attendance would be smaller. "We're going to probably have 25% of what we had last year," he said. "Last year was maxed out. Maxed out."
Last year's "Salute to America" drew thousands of supporters and protesters to D.C., though there is no official estimate of the crowd's size.
Even if attendees did maintain social distance, the event could still violate the D.C. government's reopening guidelines. According to the ReOpenDC report delivered to Mayor Muriel Bowser last week, public outdoor events like parades and festivals should be limited to 10 people in Stage 1 of reopening, 50 people in Stage 2 and 250 people in Stage 3.
As of Tuesday, Stage 1 had not yet begun.
Despite heavy rain, thousands of people gathered to hear President Trump speak on July 4th, 2019.
It's unclear whether Bowser will push back against the event if it runs counter to the city's reopening guidelines. She is currently in the middle of a consequential campaign to push the federal government to allocate additional coronavirus relief funding to the District. In the original federal recovery bill, D.C. only received $500 million — less than half of what each of the 50 states received.
Bowser told WAMU her staff is "exploring a number of options" for July 4th with the Trump administration. She also noted that D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham is concerned about crowd control and will be making a recommendation to her that she will discuss with the Department of Interior.
The Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment for this story. The White House did not return a request for comment.
Meanwhile, the Park Service is moving forward with the event to the best of its ability.
"As President Trump mentioned in his April 22 briefing, the Department of the Interior and National Park Service are continuing to plan for a Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall," Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst told WAMU.
The Status Of Other Regional Celebrations
Many other celebrations previously planned for July 4 have been canceled.
Organizers of the city's National Independence Day Parade down Constitution Avenue have already canceled this year's event. In a May 15 statement, they said they based their decision on local concerns about COVID-19:
Organizers of two other longstanding Independence Day parades — the Barracks Row Parade in Capitol Hill and the Palisades Parade along MacArthur Boulevard in Northwest — did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the status of this year's events.
The city will not be granting any parade permits during Stage 1, Bowser said yesterday in response to a question about July 4th parades.