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Planning for Trump's military parade finally getting underway

"There is only one person who wants this parade," a senior U.S. official told NBC News.
by Courtney Kube /  / Updated 
French President Emmanuel Macron and President Donald Trump at the Bastille Day military parade in Paris on July 14, 2017.Joel Saget / AFP - Getty Images file
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WASHINGTON — Four months after President Donald Trump directed the Defense Department to organize a military parade, planning is just beginning but no budget has been assigned yet.

Pentagon officials told NBC News that they will be able to pull off the extravaganza, but the lack of momentum is notable — and possibly indicative of low enthusiasm for the event outside the Oval Office.

"There is only one person who wants this parade," a senior U.S. official said, referring to Trump.

Even some White House officials are uninterested in planning the parade and are dragging their feet, according to a senior administration official.

Trump got the idea for the parade while viewing France's Bastille Day Parade last summer. Naturally, he wanted it to be really big-league.

"We're going to have to try to top it," he later told French President Emmanuel Macron.

By January, Trump was floating the idea with military leaders and in late February, he made it official with a memo to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

A March memo laid out the skeleton of a plan: a parade from the White House to the Capitol to include only wheeled vehicles (because tanks could damage the streets), capped by a big display of air power and vintage aircraft, with themes including veterans, women in the military and medal of honor recipients.

After that, three months went by with no major planning. With so many more pressing issues, the parade just was not a high priority for the military, a senior defense official said.

But in the last week or so, the event has gotten some attention. Officials have now recommended that the route begin at the Capitol, pass the White House and end at the National Mall, and the date has moved up a day to Nov. 10, from Nov. 11. A Joint Chiefs of Staff team is drafting a planning order for U.S. Northern Command, which will then dig into the specifics.

That includes bringing in the U.S. Military District of Washington — an Army command that executes state funerals for former presidents, inaugurations and other major events — to be the lead. The command is typically reimbursed by the Pentagon, but there's no pot of money earmarked for the military parade right now.

Defense can pay for some things out of its training budget by assigning a pilot who needs flight hours to a fly-by. Using vehicles from nearby bases and troops stationed in the capital region doesn't come with a high pricetag.

But there are other parade costs that the Pentagon isn't responsible for — from Secret Service and police overtime to renting, constructing and taking down risers, stands and barriers — and there's no White House budget for the event either.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council said, "The Department of Defense will provide options to the White House for a decision."

Some Washington lawmakers have raised concerns about the cost of a parade, with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., calling it a "fantastic waste of money to amuse the president." And some analysts have said that without an important military victory to justify the parade, it smacked of North Korean-style posturing.

"There’s no reason to do it aside from bolstering Trump’s ego," Thomas E. Ricks, a military historian and veteran national security reporter, told NBC News this year.

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