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Fact-checking Trump on the cost of the ‘Salute to America’ event

Posted at 3:45 PM, Jul 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-05 07:21:07-04

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his upcoming “Salute to America” event — a ramped up July 4th celebration in Washington — amid criticism of its likely high price tag and potentially partisan undertones.

“The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

Facts First: The White House and federal agencies involved in the Salute to America event declined to provide cost estimates, so it’s impossible to determine the exact price tag. Still, it’s safe to say that the costs incurred by the federal government as well as the city of Washington DC and other regional economies will be in the millions of dollars, and go well beyond the cost of fuel and include security and logistical costs. In addition, many of the planes are coming from much farther than “right next door.”

The involvement of military assets — from fighter jets to tanks to armored vehicles — has created logistical headaches that are likely to take lots of money to resolve. But beyond the military demonstrations, Trump’s planned presence on the National Mall will likely rack up huge security costs that go beyond what a traditional July 4th event requires.

The DC National Guard says it has called up approximately 800 members to help control traffic and secure the streets and Metro transit system on the day of the events. A military official tells CNN the number is actually 900 members, which would be nearly triple the typical 300-person activation for July Fourth activities in Washington, the official said.

To secure an area where the President will be exposed, the Secret Service typically sets up a perimeter into which people can only enter if they pass through metal detectors and have their belongings searched. The equipment and manpower necessary to create those additional security checkpoints and the barriers between them are likely to be pricey.

For example, the clear ballistic armor necessary for Trump to speak costs more than $24,000. Traditionally, presidents celebrate July 4th at the White House, which is already secured and doesn’t incur such high costs.

The Washington Post reported that to cover the costs of the event, the National Park Service had to dip into its entrance and recreation fee fund for $2.5 million — likely just a fraction of what the Interior Department and other agencies will spend on the event overall.

In an email response to questions about cost estimates, Mike Litterst, Chief of Communications for National Mall and Memorial Parks said: “The Department of the Interior is committed to providing the American people a fantastic celebration of our nation’s birthday. We are doing so consistent with the Department’s mission and historical practices. We hope everyone enjoys the Fourth.”

Although Trump seems to be suggesting that the cost of the event will be low due to the close proximity of the aircraft involved, according to a defense official who spoke to CNN, the aircraft will be coming from California (the Navy F-35Cs from Naval Air Station Lemoore), Kentucky (the Apache helicopters from Fort Campbell), Florida (the Blue Angels F/A-18s from Naval Air Station Pensacola), Missouri (the B-2 bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base).

Other aircraft (the F-22s, VC-25, Ospreys, and two of the F/A-18s) will come from nearby Virginia and Maryland, according to the Defense official.

Some of those aircraft can be expensive to operate. A B-2 can cost $122,311 per hour to fly, and an F-22 is can cost $65,128 per hour to operate — but according to the US Air Force, “flyovers are conducted at no additional cost to the taxpayer as they are accomplished using pre-planned and paid for training hours allocated to the units.”

Another US military official told CNN last week that the cost of using military assets was estimated to be less than $1 million, and that the personnel involved will be drawn from units based in the Washington area, helping to drive down costs.

In addition, the suspension of flights into and out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will certainly carry an economic cost. Flights coming and going from the airport will be suspended from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Thursday for the planned military flyovers, and again from 9 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. ET for the fireworks show, which unlike years’ past will interfere with flight paths into and out of the airport.

The Interior Department has said the fireworks for part of this year’s show, which will be longer than usual, were donated by two companies and are worth roughly $750,000.