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Trump defends July 4th event & Rep. Justin Amash declares his independence: The Morning Rundown

"We own the planes, we have the pilots…" Trump downplays the costs of his Salute to America event.
Image: One of two Bradley Fighting Vehicles waits to be driven into place in front of the Lincoln Memorial for President Donald Trump's 'Salute to America' event honoring service branches on Independence Day,
One of two Bradley Fighting Vehicles waits to be driven into place in front of the Lincoln Memorial for Trump's "Salute to America" event. Andrew Harnik / AP

Good morning, NBC News readers.

Happy Fourth of July! Before you hit the beach, the barbecue or your local parade, here's what we're watching today.

Trump downplays, defends July 4th celebration

President Donald Trump dismissed the cost of his Fourth of July celebration amid criticism that the event was racking up an unusually high price tag and turning the traditionally nonpolitical Independence Day tradition into a partisan event. “The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Democrats have accused Trump of using his platform — and taxpayer money — to politicize the event.

"Frankly, that's not what July 4th is about," said Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland. "It's about democracy, it's about freedom," he said. "Not about politics."

Others support the president's plan.

"Being proud of our country, there's nothing wrong with that," said Chris Metacroft, a tourist visiting the National Mall ahead of the holiday.

Trump is expected to deliver a speech at 6:30 p.m. ET from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by a military flyover.

But with scattered thunderstorms forecast for Washington, D.C. tonight, we'll see if the weather gods rain on the president's parade.

Justice Departments makes a U-turn after Trump tweet, says it will seek to add citizenship question to census

A top Justice Department lawyer said Wednesday the agency is trying to find a "legally available path" to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The move came after Trump tweeted "we are absolutely moving forward" with the question — despite a Supreme Court ruling and public statements from the Justice and Commerce Departments to the contrary.

The president's tweet caught the government lawyers tasked with implementing his words completely off guard.

"The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president's position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor," Justice Department Josh Gardner, told a U.S. District Judge on an emergency conference call Wednesday.

"Obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what's going on," he added.

Rep. Justin Amash declares his independence from the Republican Party

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash announced Thursday he was leaving the Republican Party and would remain in Congress as an independent.

"I’ve become disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it," Amash wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

Amash, who represents Michigan's third Congressional district, last month became the first congressional Republican to conclude that Trump had engaged in "impeachable conduct."

Image: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., reached his conclusion about Trump after he read special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Jump in, the water’s fine: Shark attacks aren’t on the rise, experts say

This Fourth of July, it's safe to go in the water.

Despite a recent handful of shark attacks and sightings in the Atlantic Ocean, experts say 2019 is shaping up to be an average year in terms of encounters. The experts also said that the global average of shark attacks is trending downward.

"You're more likely to die taking a selfie than being bitten by a shark," said Tyler Bowling, manager of the Florida Program for Shark Research. "The odds are crazy."

A Blacktip shark in the Atlantic Ocean.
It's OK, it's highly unlikely that this Blacktip shark is going to get you when you take a dip this summer. Mark Conlin / VWPics via AP Images file

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  • "What me worry?" Sorry, Alfred E. Neuman, Mad magazine announced it is coming off newsstands and will largely stop publishing new content.
  • The Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder in the death of a teenage ISIS fighter thanked Trump and Fox News for championing his defense. The president responded, "Glad I could help!"
  • 15-year-old Coco Gauff continues her Wimbledon run with another win. “You can kind of fake it till you make it,” she said. “But I’m not faking it, at least right now.”

THINK about it

The tastes of summer: From barbecue to rose, chefs, authors and food critics share their favorite summer foods and drinks.

Illustration of a sign for fresh picked corn.
Corn is "a necessary accoutrement to our summertime activities," Iowa based writer Lyz Lenz writes in her ode to the sweet stuff. George Wylesol / for NBC News

Science + Tech = MACH

Baked Alaska: Record-breaking temperatures are expected to hit the northern state over the next five days. Experts say the blast of heat is the "definition of unusual."


Whether you're going to the beach, road tripping, throwing a party, or relaxing by the pool, we've got a handful of hacks for a better weekend.

Quote of the day

"Modern politics is trapped in a partisan death spiral, but there is an escape."

Michigan's Rep. Justin Amash declaring his independence from the Republican Party.

One fun thing

Why are we so fascinated by fireworks? Turns out, the answer is embedded deep in our DNA.

Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

Now, please go enjoy the rest of your Independence Day!

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Thanks, Petra