June 25, 2020

Van Hollen, Udall, Leahy Announce GAO Report Revealing Trump’s 4th of July Event Doubled Costs to Taxpayers in 2019

Senators Now Seeking Review of the President’s Plan for Expanded Fourth of July Events in Washington, D.C. This Year

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee overseeing the Department of Interior’s budget; and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released the results of an investigation they requested that that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) perform regarding the costs and impacts associated with President Trump’s decision to expand Fourth of July events on the National Mall in 2019. 
The GAO investigation found the President’s decision to expand the event roughly doubled the cost to the American taxpayer compared to previous years and required significant resources to be expended by the National Park Service, the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, the government of the District of Columbia, and other governmental entities. The full report is available here.
“The Government Accountability Office’s report confirms what we knew all along: the president was willing to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer funds—expenses that weren’t budgeted for and that roughly doubled what was spent in previous years—to meet his extravagant demands,” Senators Van Hollen, Udall, and Leahy said in a joint statement. “And now, the Trump administration is at it again—spending undisclosed amounts of taxpayer money to fund special events and encourage large crowds to gather while our nation is in the middle of a pandemic. We deserve to know what resources are being spent and what public health precautions are being taken for this year’s Fourth of July events, as well.”
Now, ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, the senators are requesting a GAO review of President Trump’s plan to conduct expanded Fourth of July events in 2020 – amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Details for the events remain unclear, but are expected to include some type of Salute to America-style event in Washington, D.C., as well as a ticketed fireworks display and Presidential visit scheduled for the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota on July 3,” the senators wrote today. “As senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, we remain concerned that the President again intends to use these Fourth of July celebrations as a way to marshal the resources of Federal agencies to conduct de facto political events with official funds, and we want to ensure the Administration’s actions are consistent with the principles of Federal appropriations law.”
“We are also concerned about the prospect of large public events in the midst of a dangerous surge in COVID-19 pandemic infections in many states across the country,” the senators continued. “We note that Members of Congress who represent the National Capital Region have already urged the Administration not to schedule a “Salute to America” event in Washington, D.C., this year because of the significant impacts that COVID-19 has had on the region and the potential public health risks of such an event. We question whether large, ticketed public events can be conducted safely and in a manner that is consistent with guidance from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other State and local public health authorities. We also believe that appropriate action must be taken to protect the health and welfare of members of the public who attend public gatherings as well as the Federal, State and local government employees and other essential workers who will be required to participate.”
The full request by Van Hollen, Udall, and Leahy is available here.