President Trump, Melania to kickoff July 4 weekend at Mount Rushmore

WASHINGTON — President Trump will ring in the Fourth of July weekend with a patriotic fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore — an event that, like much of the holiday weekend, will test Americans’ social distancing discipline amid a still-spreading pandemic and raging debate about the nation’s historical figures.

The president is expected to deliver remarks at the celebration, which will attract up to 7,500 people to South Dakota’s iconic monument to America and Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Trump has promised a “display like few people have seen.”

“We’re going to have a tremendous evening. It’s going to be a fireworks display like few people have seen. It’s going to be very exciting. It’s going to be beautiful,” he said Thursday.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump will arrive around 10 p.m. Eastern Time for the rally and a fireworks display at 10:50 p.m. before returning to the White House on a red-eye flight around midnight. South Dakota is on Mountain Time, which is two hours earlier than New York and Washington, DC.

The celebration has drawn criticism on multiple fronts. South Dakota’s GOP Gov. Kristi Noem has said both social distancing and masks will be optional as daily cases in the US have skyrocketed.

“We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home, but those who want to come and join us, we’ll be giving out free face masks if they choose to wear one, but we won’t be social distancing,” Noem told Fox News on Monday.

As of Friday, there were 2.7 million confirmed cases and 130,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Leaders of local Native American tribes, a population particularly hard hit by the virus, have also expressed dismay about the coronavirus risk and the fact the monument stands on the Black Hills, tribal lands taken by the US government.

“The president is putting our tribal members at risk to stage a photo op at one of our most sacred sites,” Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told the Associated Press.

Protesters are also expected to try to disrupt the display as the nation undergoes a conversation — and protests — about race in the wake of George Floyd’s police-involved death and a fierce debate over national monuments, which has led to the illegal toppling of many statues.

Trump has deployed Homeland Security officers to protect monuments around the country on July 4.

Others have also raised concerns about the fireworks themselves, claiming they are a fire risk to the surrounding national forest. This will be the first fireworks at the monument in a decade.

The president brushed aside the concerns in January, telling reporters: “What can burn? It’s stone. You know, it’s stone. It’s granite.

“So I called up our people. And within about 15 minutes, we got it approved,” he continued.

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