Roadblocks Remain for Trump’s Military Parade

As lawmakers debate funding, security logistics are being worked out.

J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press
Alex Clearfield
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Alex Clearfield
March 22, 2018, 12:38 p.m.

Two potential hurdles to President Trump’s plan for a military parade in downtown Washington have been lifted. For starters, the event now has a tentative date of Nov. 11—Veterans Day—which also happens to be the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice. Also, despite early speculation, the parade is no longer slated to include tanks, which should assuage local officials’ concerns about wear and tear on the roads.

But that’s not to say that it’s a done deal. Some Democrats in Congress are still pledging to throw up roadblocks to the parade at any opportunity. Additionally, such an undertaking would present a unique security challenge.

Rep. Marc Veasey and Sen. Ben Cardin introduced bills in early February to prevent the government from using appropriated funds to pay for the parade. Veasey’s bill, dubbed the “Preventing Allocation of Resources for Absurd Defense Expenditures Act,” would prevent the Defense Department or Executive Office of the President from using appropriated funds for an event not celebrated in the past 10 years.

Cardin’s bill would prohibit funds for any “exhibition or parade of military forces and hardware for review by the president outside of authorized military operations or activities.”

“I’m looking for any opportunity to advance this,” Cardin told National Journal. He acknowledged that getting it through the Armed Services Committee is “unlikely,” but said he has had conversations with members of the defense and general government subcommittees (which have jurisdiction over the Pentagon and Executive Office of the President, respectively) on the matter.

Cardin was hoping for the effort to receive a boost this week as both chambers debate the omnibus spending bill, but the House bill introduced this week does not contain language pertaining to parade spending.

A staffer for Rep. Barbara Lee, the only appropriator who cosponsored Veasey’s bill, pointed to a letter that Lee sent to congressional leaders and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee “requesting report language prohibiting all funding” for a parade in the fiscal 2019 bill, adding that she “will continue to fight to block any and all funding.”

While Barack Obama was known for spontaneous walking trips outside the White House to get coffee or food, as well as other regular movement around the city, Donald Trump has rarely spent time in D.C. out in the open. He hasn’t done so for any length of time since his inauguration.

The government must work with multiple government entities—most notably the National Park Service, U.S. Capitol Police, and District of Columbia police—in order to organize the event. There is also the possibility that the parade is designated as a National Special Security Event, a designation made by the Homeland Security Department that is typically reserved for inaugurations, political conventions, and international summits that would place the Secret Service in charge of the event’s security.

The last military parade, dubbed “The National Victory Celebration,” was held months after the end of the Persian Gulf War in June 1991. Per a Washington Post report, 800,000 people attended the procession that went across Arlington Memorial Bridge and down Constitution Avenue. That parade cost $10-12 million, of which $5 million came from private fundraising and the remainder from the Defense Department.

CNN reported that the 2018 parade will proceed from the White House to the Capitol. It will not have the tanks that damaged the streets in the 1991 parade but will have planes.

Cardin said that he would still be opposed to a parade even if it were privately funded. “Taxpayer cost is one of the issues. It’s the inconvenience to the District of Columbia, which would happen regardless of how it’s financed. … If it’s done outside of taxpayer money, that’s a mitigating factor, but it doesn’t negate my concern about the parade.”

“Roads have to be closed and public information has to be put out,” said D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh regarding the city’s involvement in the event. “The national security people are going to be worried that somebody might be attracted to this. If Trump’s going to be on a viewing stand, then there has to be a way to protect him.”

The parade, which will be planned by the Joint Staff and Northern Command, will also have to include the cooperation of the Capitol Police. Preliminary plans call for Trump to observe some of the activities from a reviewing stand outside the Capitol. The Capitol will be closed for normal business on Veterans’ Day, as it is both a federal holiday and a Sunday.

“It’s not just about protecting the president, it’s about protecting everybody,” said one security expert regarding a National Special Security Event. “The whole parade route needs to be secured. You have to think about all the threats,” he said, pointing to chemical weapons, IEDs, and even implements hidden in backpacks.

If designated a National Special Security Event, the parade route will also have to be swept for potential snipers, buildings along the route will need to be secured, and attendees along the route must screened.

“This would be a very attractive terrorist target, whether it be an organized group or a self-radicalized person,” said the expert. “That’s all the more reason to make it an NSSE.”

Two recent NSSEs similar to the parade (excluding inaugurations, which are automatically classified as such) were Ronald Reagan’s state funeral in 2004, which included a procession down Constitution Avenue from near the White House to the Capitol, and a 2009 pre-inauguration celebration for Barack Obama on the National Mall.

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