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Trump faces criticism for July 4 display of military strength

This Fourth of July, Vice President Mike Pence welcomed newly naturalized U.S. citizens in the nation’s capital. In Iowa, the holiday meant special campaign events for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Meanwhile, crowds gathered in Washington for President Trump’s “Salute to America.” John Yang reports and Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor, reporting from the National Mall.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Pomp, pageantry and armored tanks. President Trump creates a different kind of fireworks this Fourth of July, as the country celebrates this Independence Day.

    John Yang begins our reporting.

  • Vice President Mike Pence:

    All of you aspired to be Americans.

  • John Yang:

    This July Fourth, Vice President Pence welcomed newly naturalized citizens at a Washington, D.C., ceremony; 44 people from 26 countries celebrated their new nation's Independence Day.

    In Iowa, neighborhood parades became part of the 2020 campaign trail, as several Democratic contenders spent the day politicking.

    Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont took time to speak to supporters at a new campaign outpost in Ames.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    What we need is an unprecedented grassroots movement of millions of people. That's how we change America.

  • John Yang:

    In the aptly named Independence, Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden ran along the parade route. He also took a jab at President Trump's Salute to America ceremony in Washington.

  • Joe Biden:

    The Fourth of July is to celebrate our togetherness. It says we the people, we the people. And it talks about honor and dignity.

    And it's missing now. And it's hurting us terribly.

  • John Yang:

    Biden wasn't the only presidential hopeful to criticize Mr. Trump. California Senator Kamala Harris yesterday in West Des Moines:

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    I don't think he understands this is America's birthday, not his birthday. He wants to have a military parade. Why don't you think about military families?

  • John Yang:

    And South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke to reporters today after marching in a Storm Lake, Iowa, parade:

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    This shouldn't be a political event. Nothing about Fourth of July should be reduced to politics.

    And I think reducing our nation to tanks and shows of muscle just makes us look like the kind of loudmouth guy at the bar.

  • John Yang:

    Back in Washington, signs of the president's event were in the background during the annual parade. Onlookers cheered as a birthday cake for America floated by and a giant Uncle Sam flew overhead. It was just blocks away from the military hardware parked in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

    Besides armored vehicles, the White House has arranged for flyovers by warplanes, including F-35 fighter jets and the Blue Angels. Both the White House and Pentagon have declined to put a price tag on the event, but the National Park Service is diverting $2.5 million intended for park repairs.

    For his part, Mr. Trump tweeted: "The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth."

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, is on the National Mall, and joins me now.

    Hello, Yamiche.

    So we have seen some images of those tanks. We know there's going to be a military jet flyover. How unusual is it for the president himself to play a prominent role on the Fourth of July and to make sure that the military is front and center on this day we think about our history?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president is — it's really unprecedented for the president to hold a Fourth of July address alongside military equipment and military leaders.

    The president said he wants to honor America and really celebrate all this military equipment that he's excited is being made. In the Oval Office this week, he said that there are tanks being made in Ohio, and he wants people to see them.

    That being said, there are politics at play here. The Republican National Committee was giving out VIP donor tickets to Republican donors. There are also people that are close to the president that are going to have really good seats here.

    The other thing to note is, the president is really excited about this, but there's a lot of criticism about the president really using the military in this way.

    I have been talking to former military officials who tell me it's — quote — "ridiculous" for the president to essentially force military leaders to stand behind him and stand next to him. They also said that this is really the stuff of dictators, that, in Russia or North Korea, you see military parades like this, but, here in America, you don't see that.

    That being said, the president says he is excited to address this crowd.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, you're standing in front of — the president's going to be speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a place that is fraught with meaning, certainly fraught with American history.

    What do we know that what the president is going to say in his speech tonight?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president said that it's really — he's really going to be talking about the history of America, talking about the role of America.

    He said that he's excited to speak about all the different military equipment that we have. This is really a president who is trying to put patriotism at the center of his presidency.

    I talked to a retired four-star general, General Jack Keane. He said that the president's intentions are genuine and that he thinks that the public should get a chance to see the military and touch the military equipment.

    His point that he made to me was that only 1 percent of the population serves in the military, so people should really be able to get up close and personal.

    That said, I talked to Donald K. Sherman of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. That's a watchdog group. He said that the president is putting special interests above the American people.

    He said that because there are VIP donors, Republican donors who are going to have better seats here than the American public, because there is going to be people that didn't have tickets that are going to be way far back still listening to the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, you were telling us you have been hearing about the cost of this event and about how some — there have been some complaints about that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    There have been.

    The biggest concern from critics of the president has been that he's spending too much money on this, and that this is really a waste of money for the president to have a vanity project.

    I spoke to a D.C. government official. That person told me that D.C. still hasn't been paid back for the $7.3 million that they spent during the inauguration in 2017 for President Trump.

    Also, Eleanor Holmes Norton, she's a representative for president — for D.C. in Congress. She also is pointing out that the D.C. — that the D.C. government has not been paid back.

    That being said, the blame is really all around. The president had said that D.C. was going to get paid back. And other presidents have pushed Congress to appropriate that money to D.C. But, in this case, the president didn't do that.

    So you could blame Congress, you could blame the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Yamiche, you have been out talking to people, to visitors on the Mall. What are they telling you?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We spoke to a lot of different people on the Mall today. Our team has been out since 6:30 in the morning.

    I want to first place them sound of Diane Atkins. She's a municipal worker in New York who is very excited about this event. Listen to what she had to say.

  • Diane Atkins:

    Some people feel, oh, is this a dictatorship because you're bringing the military?

    Well, actually, on, without military involvement, this country would have not been able to survive as long as we have. And the fact that he's our president, he's a Republican, but he's the president of every citizen of the United States. So it's not partisan. It's nonpartisan.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We also spoke to Alex Robb. He is a 26-year-old veteran of the Navy. He was active duty until last year. He disagrees. Here's what he had to say.

  • Alex Robb:

    I feel it's kind of self-centered. It's not — it's not needed. The military is here to guard our national interests. And it — they're just not needed here.

    The world already knows how strong we are. We don't need to broadcast that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So there are a lot of different opinions.

    And as you can tell in some of those — some of those scenes, it's raining here in Washington, but people are still out here. I'm really excited to hear the president, so we will have to see how it goes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the weather is threatening, but we are told the president is going to speak within the hour.

    And, Yamiche, you're going to be covering it. We're going to try to come back to you at the end of the program. Thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks, Judy.

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