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Why Trump’s Fourth of July event is complicated for the U.S. military

President Trump has been yearning for a large-scale military display since he took office. With this year’s Fourth of July celebration, which includes tanks, fighter jets and the Blue Angels, he gets his wish -- but not without criticism. The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe has been reporting on the controversy around Trump’s military “salute” and joins Judy Woodruff to foreshadow the event.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to our lead story, Independence Day events here in the nation's capital.

    Putting the military front and center on the Fourth of July is unusual, but a large-scale military display has been the desire of President Trump for many months.

    Dan Lamothe, who covers national security for The Washington Post, has been reporting on this, and he is here with more.

    Dan Lamothe, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    So, first of all, what are we going to see this evening? What's on display?

  • Dan Lamothe:

    So on display are two Bradley Fighting Vehicles and two Abrams tanks.

    They're both down near the Lincoln Memorial. They will be right near the president as he's speaking, assumedly.

    There's been some confusion, but it's — they're not all tanks, is I guess the short statement there. In addition to that, we're looking at a relatively robust air show, if everything goes according to plan, B-2 bomber, the F-35 fighter, F-22 fighters, I mean, a pretty lengthy and impressive list.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is something President Trump, as we said, has wanted for a long time, since the beginning of his term in office.

  • Dan Lamothe:

    Yes.

    This goes back to him appearing in France and seeing the Bastille Day celebration there. And we had the discussion over whether we would do something like this for Memorial Day, and then it was going to be Veterans Day. And, apparently, it made — it made it as far down the line as this.

    We won't be having the big military parade that I think he initially envisioned. But the air show that would have been associated with that, and a handful of vehicles on the ground, is kind of where they ended up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what has been the reaction from the rest of the administration, from the Pentagon in particular, from people in the White House?

  • Dan Lamothe:

    The Pentagon is in a pretty tough spot, I think.

    They have largely been muzzled, really. They have said very little this week. They, in many ways, had been told not to talk and to let president and the White House do the talking on this one.

    I was told that they wanted the element of surprise in this show. So doing things like explaining what this would look like or what would be involved hasn't really happened, at least on the record.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I was just going to say, and — but resistance up until now to the sort of grander display that the president had wanted?

  • Dan Lamothe:

    I have heard very mixed stories on that.

    So, I think part — and I think partly because of the limited communication coming out of the Pentagon, there was the impression early in the week that a lot of this was all last-minute, that the Pentagon really wasn't on board, but was sort of reluctantly carrying it out.

    Over time, it sounds more like the Pentagon was on board, at least — especially with the air show side of this. Discussions went back to February and March. But, really, a lot of this, in terms of how it was discussed and when they were allowed to talk about it, that complicated it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much of a factor that the Pentagon — you haven't had a confirmed secretary of defense since last December?

  • Dan Lamothe:

    I think it complicates it in a couple ways. One, I think the people in uniform are often hesitant to step out in a way that looks partisan. There's a long tradition in the military of trying to avoid politics.

    So you usually rely on your civilian leadership to be the one talking at that point. We have had two acting defense secretaries since Christmas, really. So we have moved into a situation where you have a brand-new acting secretary who has yet to go before his confirmation hearing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Dan Lamothe:

    And how you go about talking about that or not? There's been very little from acting Secretary Esper this week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we saw — just finally, we saw the list of who's going to be there from the military. Several members of the Joint Chiefs are not going. There are several leading military officials who will be there, but a number are not going.

  • Dan Lamothe:

    That initially caught my eye, because I wondered if somebody was sort of silently protesting there.

    And what I have been told is that it's less that, and more logistics. July is a common time to have vacation. So, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs will be there. And I think, in a lot of other ways, they were looking to get sort of a senior representative from each service front and center.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you are going to be covering it tonight for The Washington Post.

  • Dan Lamothe:

    I will — yes, I will be out there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dan Lamothe, we thank you very much.

  • Dan Lamothe:

    Thank you.

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