As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised not to take a salary if he was elected. Early on in his presidency, the White House made a show of touting Trump’s quarterly donations of his salary to different federal agencies. The very first one was for $78,333, given to the National Park Service to help maintain a historic battlefield site.
But on Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the National Park Service (NPS) transferred $2.5 million away from a fund devoted to improving and maintaining parks around the country in order to pay for Trump’s Fourth of July extravaganza on the National Mall. Normally a nonpartisan, unifying birthday celebration for America, Trump will be the first president to host his own Fourth of July celebration there, even setting aside a VIP section with a good view of the Lincoln Memorial for his special guests.
The cost associated with the event will be far more than $2.5 million, but just to cover this initial transfer, Trump would have send a similar-sized check to the NPS almost 32 more times to make up for it.
Moreover, Trump’s budget in 2017 called for a $1.6 billion budget cut for the Interior Department, which runs the NPS. The budget even attempted to cut the land acquisitions program, which adds land to the national park system, by $120 million. Congress balked at this and eventually increased Interior’s budget by $2.5 billion, including $650 million for NPS.
Trump and Congress still owe the District of Columbia $7 million from Trump’s inauguration which happened in January 2017.
This obvious contrast — Trump bragging about donating money to federal agencies, while attempting to affect the department’s funding in other ways — has played out before.
Earlier this year, Trump tweeted a photo of a check made out to the Department of Homeland Security, contending that the press does not like writing about his salary donations, and he does not “need them to.”
While the press doesn’t like writing about it, nor do I need them to, I donate my yearly Presidential salary of $400,000.00 to different agencies throughout the year, this to Homeland Security. If I didn’t do it there would be hell to pay from the FAKE NEWS MEDIA! pic.twitter.com/xqIGUOwh4x
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2019
The money was not exactly needed for the agency, which received a significant budget increase in the last two fiscal years. But to Trump, it was about getting credit, and restarting grievances with the news media.
He decried the press as the “fake news media,” who would give him “hell to pay” if he did not donate his salary. Trump himself promised to not take the salary, but the White House arrived at the process of Trump accepting his paycheck and then making a separate donation every quarter.
Since he entered office, Trump has added over $2.2 trillion to the federal debt. While much of that spending has been on normal budgetary outlays, some of it is on much more personal spending, including his planned Fourth of July event on in Washington, D.C. this week.
The event, unlike previous national Independence Day celebrations, will have the president taking over parts of the National Mall instead of leaving that area open to the public, while the president and his guests remain on the White House grounds. There will be a VIP area where donors and political supporters can get access with a ticket. Trump has asked for tanks to be a part of the event. Trump will be speaking at the Lincoln Memorial, and if he speaks about the 2020 election he could run afoul of the law unless his campaign compensates the federal government for the event.
— Council of DC (@councilofdc) July 1, 2019
Local residents and leaders have displayed opposition to Trump’s planned event in different ways. “Tanks, but no tanks,” tweeted the D.C. Council, who will have to repair any roads damaged by the tanks, and the activist group CodePink got a permit to fly a giant balloon depicting Trump as a baby near the celebration.