In the world of Washington politics it’s hard to rule anything out. But an awkward controversy is developing over President Trump’s desire for military parade.
Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters recently it would be a salute to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who are serving their country, probably scheduled for Veterans Day.
“I think we are all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military,” he said at a press briefing.
But an informal recent Military Times poll found that 89 percent of its readers—most of whom are connected to the military—think it’s a waste of money.
It’s been almost two decades since America’s military leaders greeted the commander-in-chief at the top of a parade stand near the White House. The last time was 1991, when joyous festivities celebrated the nation’s swift and stunning victory in the Persian Gulf war.
But unlike the 1991 gala, there is no great recent victory to celebrate. And no money to spare for such a celebration in a Pentagon budget squeezed by spending caps.
What’s more, Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, says there is no enthusiasm for a military parade now in either political party.
“I think most people are embarrassed by this request,” Cardin said during an interview last week. “They recognize that it’s more of an ego issue with the president than it is for our soldiers.”
Secretary Mattis estimated that a parade like the 1991 gala hosted by President George H. W. Bush--featuring tanks, missile launchers and other heavy equipment--could cost up to $30 million.
Cardin said that may not include the tab for repairs to D.C. roadways similar to what was required after the Bush parade.
“If we had this extra money, there are so many other needs out there for our military families that would be a much higher priority,” the senator said.
Trump has said his inspiration for the parade came from attending the Bastille Day celebration in Paris last year with French President Emmanuel Macron. He told a Fox News audience last week that he would only do it “at a reasonable cost,” but he also expressed his desire for “a lot of plane flyovers.”
Cardin has been working for months to shut off the spigot for parade funding. As soon as Trump’s reaction to the French parade surfaced, the Maryland senator proposed an amendment to a defense policy bill that would have prohibited the use of federal money for such a parade. It did not make the final version.
Then, after Trump’s parade proposal went public earlier this month, Cardin offered his amendment as a stand-alone bill. But the Republican-controlled Congress is not likely to approve such a restriction on a Republican president, which Cardin notes would leave the final choice to Trump.
“I’ve given up trying to figure out what the president’s going to do,” Cardin said.
The deciding factor may be public opinion. A recent Quinnipiac University poll suggested that a majority of Republican voters think that a parade is not a good use of public funds. Among Democrats, opposition is overwhelming.
Cardin met last Friday with veterans in Ellicott City where he got questions dealing mostly with bread and butter issues like jobs and health care. No one mentioned the parade.
Whether that’s good news or bad news for the president remains to be seen. But it seems a safe bet that the 1991 extravaganza won’t be matched.
(C-span and the George H.W. Bush presidential library contributed to this story.)