MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Tanks, flyovers, a presidential speech from the Lincoln Memorial and a new special section for White House officials, friends and family who get VIP tickets to a revamped Fourth of July celebration - you may have heard President Trump is changing things up this year here in the nation's capital. He says the event will be special like no other. His critics say he risks turning a traditionally nonpartisan holiday into a campaign rally.
NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been following all these developments. She's here now. Hey, Claudia.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So what is the fight over here, and what's the history of presidents personalizing July Fourth celebrations?
GRISALES: Well, presidents have traditionally steered clear of the Fourth of July events. They haven't given public speeches along the National Mall. It's usually a parade, concert and fireworks. But now Trump will give the first presidential address at the D.C. festivities since Harry Truman was president.
KELLY: So that takes us back seven decades or so.
GRISALES: Exactly. And he's taking this extraordinary step of speaking from the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by military hardware leaders and service members. His speeches historically have often crept into the political, whether it's a Boy Scout convention in 2017 or he's signing a defense bill late last year. So folks are worried that this could add up to another Trump political rally. I spoke to Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the ranking Democrat for the Senate Appropriations Committee who is among the lawmakers who's raising that concern.
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TOM UDALL: There are very specific regulations that talk about turning something into a partisan event, a campaign rally. Those are prohibited. Also propaganda is prohibited.
KELLY: What does it matter if he does politicize it? People who don't like President Trump or don't like what he has to say - they're free to ignore him.
GRISALES: Very true. But in this case, taxpayers are on the hook to pay for the celebration. It's traditionally nonpartisan. But if it veers into the political, it has those overtones, then the president could be in a position where his campaign has to reimburse for all of these costs.
KELLY: Oh, where public funds can't be used, OK.
KELLY: OK. And let me ask you about something that has snagged a lot of people's attention, which is this VIP section and VIP tickets. What's going on there?
GRISALES: Well, there's a special section for his speech from the Lincoln Memorial that stretches from the steps of the memorial along the reflecting pond and details about who got into that section were hard to come by in recent days. The Secret Service said on Friday that the White House was in charge of distributing those tickets. Then we learned the RNC was actually sharing those tickets with donors and others. And today we learned that the Defense Department had received 5,000 of those tickets so military leaders, including Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, are expected to be on hand along with service members in the audience.
KELLY: And in terms of the speech the president will deliver from the Lincoln Memorial, do we know what he's going to say? Do we know if he plans to make it political?
GRISALES: White House aides have maintained that this speech will focus on celebrating America, the flag and the military. But if it doesn't, it raises this question of who pays or doesn't pay for the event.
KELLY: And the president has been known to veer off script before.
GRISALES: There are moments, however, where he has shown restraint. For example, at Medal of Honor ceremonies or at a recent D-Day speech in Normandy, he has stuck to the script.
KELLY: Sounds like a lot to watch for tomorrow. NPR congressional reporter Claudio Grisales, thank you.
GRISALES: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.