How other presidents spent their Fourths of July

President George W. Bush smiles as he poses for a group photo with military personnel during his visit to U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.  on July 4, 2006. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Through history, the Fourth of July has been a day for some presidents to declare their independence from the public. They’ve made tracks to the beach, the mountains, the golf course, the farm, the ranch. In the middle of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt was sailing to a Hawaii vacation.

It’s also been a day for some presidents to insert themselves front and center in the fabric of it all, as Donald Trump plans to do Thursday with his speechifying and showmanship. Teddy Roosevelt drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands for his oratory and Richard Nixon enraged the anti-war masses without even showing up.

In modern times, though, presidents have tended to stand back and let the people party. George W. Bush had a ceremony welcoming immigrants as new citizens. Barack Obama threw a South Lawn barbecue for troops. Trump’s plan to command center stage with his words and American military might has the capital cleaving along political lines.

As the anti-Nixon demonstrations of 1970 showed, Independence Day in the capital isn’t always just fun and games. It has a tradition of red, white and boo, too.

And when protesters make their presence felt Thursday, that will be as American as the cherries and milk that apparently soured Zachary Taylor’s gut when he wolfed them down July 4, 1850, and died five days later.

A look at what some presidents have done on the Fourth of July:

1777: On the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, with the Revolutionary War underway, future president John Adams describes a day and night of spontaneous celebration in Philadelphia in a letter to his wife, Abigail. After hours of parading troops, fireworks, bonfires and music, he tells her he strolled alone in the dark.

“I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise,” he writes, “and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows. I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw; a few surly houses were dark; but the lights were very universal. Considering the lateness of the design and the suddenness of the execution, I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendour of every part of this joyful exhibition. ”

1791: Two years after becoming the first president, George Washington celebrates in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “with an address, fine cuisine, and walking about town,” says the National Park Service . Philadelphia was the interim capital as Washington, D.C., was being readied; Lancaster had hosted the Continental Congress for a quick, on-the-run session during the revolution.

1798: Now president, John Adams reviews a military parade in Philadelphia as the young nation flexes its muscle.

1801: Thomas Jefferson presides over the first Fourth of July public reception at the White House.

1822: James Monroe hangs out at his farm in Virginia.

1826: Adams, the second president, and Jefferson, the third, both die on this July 4.

1831: James Monroe, who was the fifth president, dies on this July 4.

1848: James Polk witnesses the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument with Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois congressman, attending. A military parade follows.

1850: Zachary Taylor attends festivities at the grounds of the Washington Monument and falls ill with stomach cramps after eating cherries and drinking iced milk and water. He dies July 9. A theory that someone poisoned him with arsenic was debunked in 1991 when his body was exhumed and tested.

1861: Abraham Lincoln sends a message to Congress defending his invocation of war powers, appealing for more troops to fight the South and assailing Virginia for allowing “this giant insurrection to make its nest within her borders.” He vows to “go forward without fear.”

1868: Post-war, Andrew Johnson executes a proclamation granting amnesty to those who fought for the Confederacy.

1902: Teddy Roosevelt speaks to 200,000 people in Pittsburgh. He liked to get in people’s faces on the holiday.

1914: “Our country, right or wrong,” Woodrow Wilson declares at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

1928: Calvin Coolidge (born July 4, 1872) goes trout fishing in Wisconsin.

1930: Herbert Hoover vacations by the Rapidan River in Virginia.

1934: Franklin Roosevelt is in or near the Bahamas after leaving Annapolis, Maryland, on a monthlong voyage and visit to Hawaii via the Panama Canal. On July 4, the U.S.S. Houston’s log refers to the “fishing party” leaving the ship for part of the day.

1946: With World War II over the year before, Harry Truman relaxes in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains at Roosevelt’s Shangri-La retreat, later renamed Camp David.

1951: With the U.S. at war in Korea, Truman addresses a huge crowd at the Washington Monument grounds, marking the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

1953 and 1957: Dwight Eisenhower = golf.

1968: Lyndon Johnson, who favored his Texas ranch on the holiday, speaks in San Antonio about the lack of independence for the poor, minorities, the ill, people “who must breathe polluted air” and those who live in fear of crime, “despite our Fourth of July rhetoric.”

1970: Richard Nixon, in California, tapes a message that is played to crowds on the National Mall at an “Honor America Day” celebration organized by supporters and hotly protested by anti-war masses and civil rights activists. Tear gas overcomes protesters and celebrants alike, Viet Cong flags mingle with the Stars and Stripes, and demonstrators plunge into the reflecting pool, some naked.

1976: As the U.S. turns 200, Gerald Ford speaks at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, then Independence Hall, and reviews the armada of tall ships in New York harbor.

1987: Ronald Reagan, at Camp David, makes a straight political statement in his July 4 radio address, pitching an economic “bill of rights” and Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. On a Saturday, it served as his weekly radio address, which he and other modern presidents used for their agendas.

2008: George W. Bush, like several presidents before him, hosts a naturalization ceremony. More than 70 people from 30 countries are embraced as new citizens.

2010: Barack Obama brings 1,200 service members to the South Lawn for a barbecue. The father of a July 4 baby, Malia, he would joke that she always thought the capital fireworks were for her.

2012: Obama combines two Fourth of July traditions — celebrating troops and new citizens — by honoring the naturalization of U.S. military members who came to the country as immigrants.

2017: Trump goes to his golf club, then hosts a White House picnic for military families.

2018: Another White House picnic for military families, with thousands also invited to see the fireworks.

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Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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GOP hypocrisy on display in border fight?

President Donald Trump, with Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, sheriff of Chester County, Pa., left, and AJ Louderback, sheriff of Jackson County, Texas, attends a roundtable discussion on border security with local leaders, Friday Jan. 11, 2019, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

President Barack Obama stunned Republicans when he bypassed Congress and — relying on what he called his pen and his phone — used executive powers to enact his agenda, including protecting millions of young immigrants from deportation.

Now, with President Donald Trump proposing an even more dramatic end-run around Congress to build his promised border wall with Mexico, many Republicans are uneasily cheering him on.

The potential use of a national emergency declaration by Trump for the border wall shows the extent to which the party is willing to yield on treasured values — in this case, the constitutional separation of powers — to steer clear of confronting the White House and give the president what he wants.

It’s a different accommodation from just a few years ago. Then Republicans often called out Obama as overstepping his authority in using executive actions when Congress failed to act on White House priorities. They complained about Obama as “king,” ″emperor” or “tyrant.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, said most conservatives would go along with Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency as “the last tool in the tool box” for building the wall.

“Does the president have the right and the ability to do it? Yes. Would most of us prefer a legislative option? Yes,” Meadows told reporters this week. “Most conservatives want it to be the last resort he would use. But those same conservatives, I’m sure, if it’s deployed, would embrace him as having done all he could do to negotiate with Democrats.”

Other Republicans say Trump has few options left after talks broke down at the White House over his long-promised border wall.

“This is not something you would want to do,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, now the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“But we’ve been put into this position,” he said. “The Democrats are forcing him into a choice of doing the national emergency because they won’t sit down and discuss it.”

On Saturday, the partial government shutdown will stretch in its 22nd day and Trump’s plans for ending the stalemate are shifting yet again.

Trump indicated he was slowing what had appeared to be momentum toward the national emergency declaration as the way out of the stalemate. Invoking the power would allow him to tap unspent Defense funds to build the long-promised wall along the border that was central to his presidential campaign.

On the campaign trail, the president often said at rallies that Mexico would pay for the wall. But Mexico has refused forcing Trump to ask Congress for the money instead. Trump walked out of negotiations this week when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats refused to give, saying they support dollars for border security just not the big wall Trump envisions. They call the wall ineffective and say it’s a symbol that does not reflect the nation’s values.

After having talked for days about invoking the national emergency power to unleash the funds, the president hit pause Friday. “I’m not going to do it so fast,” Trump said during an event Friday at the White House.

Experts have said even though the president may have the authority to invoke powers under the 1976 National Emergencies Act, using it will almost certainly bring on a court battle. The courts did not allow President Harry Truman to nationalize the U.S. steel industry during the Korean War.

Moreover, they say, it could lead the country into unchartered areas. Declaring an emergency could give the president access to many other powers, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

“The president thinks that he can do whatever he wants by declaring something a national emergency,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii who serves on the Judiciary Committee. “I think it’s a very dangerous thing.”

But what cuts to the core of the concern on Capitol Hill is the executive branch wading into legislative domain to shift money Congress has already approved to the wall.

The constitution provides the Congress, not the White House, the power of the purse, and lawmakers are not eager to cede their role to the president, even for a wall many Republicans support.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill objected to the administration eyeing shifting unspent disaster funding Congress approved last year for Army Corps of Engineer projects to help hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and other areas to pay for the wall. By Friday, lawmakers said they were being told those projects will not be touched and the White House was now looking for other funds to pay for the border wall.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, part of the GOP leadership, said at a forum Friday in Austin that the lawmakers “worked very hard to make sure that the victims of Hurricane Harvey – their concerns are addressed and Texas is able to rebuild.”

He said, “I will tell you that I will oppose any reprogramming of Harvey disaster funds.”

Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, acknowledged the dilemma, especially as the shutdown continues with no end in sight.

Trump invoking a national emergency “might break an impasse and it needs to be broken one way or another,” Shelby said as the Senate adjourned. But he prefers a negotiated settlement with Congress. “I’m still hoping we’ll have a breakthrough, but right now I don’t see one.”
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Trump: A ‘fringe’ member of president’s club

From left, President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter listen as former President George W. Bush speaks during a State Funeral at the National Cathedral, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018, in Washington, for former President George H.W. Bush.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

The nation’s most exclusive fraternity — the presidents club — assembled Wednesday to mourn George H.W. Bush, putting on public display its uneasy relationship with the current occupant of the Oval Office. The uncomfortable reunion brought President Donald Trump together in the same pew with past White House residents who have given him decidedly critical reviews.

The late Bush was the de facto chair of the modern incarnation of the president’s club, transcending contentious campaigns and party lines to bring together fractious personalities who share that rarified experience. But the staid group of Oval Office occupants has been disturbed since Donald Trump’s election. And since his swearing-in, Trump has spurned most contact with his predecessors — and they have snubbed him in return.

The Bushes had made it known to the White House months ago that, despite differences in policy and temperament, the late president wanted Trump to attend the national service. The ceremony’s tributes at times stood as an unspoken counterpoint to Trump’s leadership, as historian Jon Meacham eulogized Bush by recounting his life’s credo: “Tell the truth, don’t blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course.” George W. Bush added of his father: “He could tease and needle, but not out of malice.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s state funeral for the late president, former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses chatted easily among themselves from their seats in the front row at Washington’s National Cathedral. The ex-presidents leaned over their wives to chat with one another. Bill Clinton and former first lady Michelle Obama shared a quiet conversation.

But the Trumps’ arrival, minutes ahead of the motorcade carrying Bush’s casket, cast a pall on the conversation. First lady Melania Trump approached first, greeting both Obamas and former President Clinton with a handshake. Hillary Clinton appeared to nod at Mrs. Trump but did not interact with Trump himself and stared straight ahead during the service. Jimmy Carter waved a hand. The president then shook hands with both Obamas before taking his seat.

After that, the small talk along the row largely stopped.

Next followed George W. Bush, who, by contrast, shook hands with the entire row of dignitaries — and appeared to share a moment of humor with Michelle Obama, slipping something into her hand. Bush took his seat across the aisle from the ex-presidents, with the rest of the Bush family.

The Trump-Obama handshake marked the first direct interaction between the current president and his immediate predecessor since Inauguration Day 2017. Trump has not spoken to Democrats Clinton or Obama since that day.

He did speak with the younger Bush during the contentious confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as the previous Republican president helped lobby for his former aide. Democrat Carter has been briefed by White House officials on North Korea, though it was not clear if he has engaged directly with Trump.

Trump has sought to meet the elder Bush’s passing with grace, a contrast to the rhythms of much of his tumultuous presidency. He came to office after a campaign in which he harshly criticized his Democratic predecessors and co-opted a Republican Party once dominated by the Bush family. Despite the traditional kinship among presidents, Trump’s predecessors have all made their discomfort known in different ways.

“It’s unusual that a cabal of ex-presidents from both parties dislike a sitting president and that’s what you’ve got happening right now,” said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University.

By virtue of health, longevity and opportunities for continued influence, ex-presidents are sticking around longer than ever and staying active in the public eye.

Past presidents often built relationships with their predecessors, Brinkley said. “Bill Clinton would reach out to Richard Nixon for advice on Russia,” he said. “Harry Truman leaned heavily on Herbert Hoover. It’s endless.”

To be sure, Brinkley added, those ties vary from president to president and there have been chilly relationships as well, noting, for example, that “FDR would never talk to Herbert Hoover.”

Busy with a mix of personal pursuits, charitable endeavors — and, in some cases, paid speaking gigs — the former leaders don’t mingle very often, making a funeral in their group a big occasion. Bonded by the presidency, they tend to exercise caution in their comments about each other. Still, all the living former presidents have aimed barbs — directly or indirectly — at Trump.

In a speech in September, Obama slammed the “crazy stuff” coming out of the White House without directly naming Trump. Last year, the younger Bush made a speech that confronted many of the themes of Trump’s presidency without mentioning him by name, cautioning that “bigotry seems emboldened” and the nation’s politics “seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”

Over the summer, Carter told The Washington Post that Trump’s presidency was a “disaster.” And Clinton — stung by Trump’s defeat of wife Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race — told a weekly newspaper in New York state after her stunning loss that Trump “doesn’t know much.”

Even the late Bush’s feelings about Trump were harsh at times. In Mark K. Updegrove’s book “The Last Republicans,” published last year, the elder Bush called Trump a “blowhard.”

The late Bush said he voted for Clinton in 2016 while George W. Bush said he voted for “none of the above.”

There have been other moments when the ex-presidents offered more sympathetic sentiments for Trump. After Trump’s surprise victory, Obama stood in the Rose Garden at the White House and said he was “rooting” for the next president. Carter told The New York Times in 2017 the media had been harder on Trump than other presidents. Clinton said in June that America should be rooting for Trump to succeed in his North Korea talks.

While he has struggled to set the right tone in past moments of national grief, Trump has gone out of his way to address Bush’s passing with consideration, issuing kind statements and ensuring that Bush family members have whatever they need for the funeral. On Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump welcomed Laura Bush and other family members for a tour of the White House Christmas decorations. And Trump and the first lady visited with members of the Bush family at Blair House.

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Trump not even close on latest economic claims

Kevin Hassett, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump pitched a wildly off-base claim about economic growth Monday as the White House used selective statistics to build a case that the economy is doing much better than when Barack Obama was in office.

The attention on Obama comes as the ex-president steps back into the political arena on behalf of Democrats in the November elections. The White House dispatched economic adviser Kevin Hassett to rebut Obama’s point that his policies helped end the Great Recession and put the economy on a growth path that Trump is now mostly benefiting from.

Companies are much more optimistic and have increased spending on buildings and equipment, Hassett said. Americans are starting new businesses and the increase in startups is accelerating more quickly than it did under Obama, he added, and blue-collar jobs — in mining, construction and manufacturing — are growing more rapidly.

Yet some of the White House’s case is wrong, exaggerated or lacks context:

TRUMP, in a tweet: “The GDP rate (4.2 percent) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9 percent) for the first time in over 100 years!”

HASSETT: “The correct number is 10 years.”

THE FACTS: Actually, the correct number is 12 years. In the first three months of 2006, the economy expanded at a 5.4 percent annual rate. At the same time, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.

The economy’s growth rate, which reached 4.2 percent in the April-June quarter, has been higher than the unemployment rate dozens of times since World War II. Hassett acknowledged Trump’s tweet was wrong.

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HASSETT: “There was an inflection at the election of Donald Trump, and … a whole bunch of data items started heading north.”

THE FACTS: If you look at a chart of monthly job gains or the economy’s growth rate, that inflection point is hard to spot. Hassett notably did not include in his presentation any mention of overall job creation or the broadest measurement of the economy’s output, GDP.

That’s probably because the growth rate Trump repeatedly cites, the 4.2 percent expansion at an annual rate that occurred in the April-June quarter, isn’t out of line with Obama’s record. The economy grew more quickly than that four times during Obama’s eight years in office.

Economists generally acknowledge that growth has accelerated this year compared with 2016 and 2017, and most of them partly credit last year’s tax cuts for fueling more consumer and business spending. The economy is on pace to grow at a 3 percent or faster pace in 2018, which would be the first time since 2005 it would reach that mark.

Yet it barely missed that cutoff in 2015, when it expanded 2.9 percent under Obama.

When it comes to jobs, the U.S. added more jobs in each of the last three years of Obama’s presidency, 2014-2016, than it did last year, Trump’s first in office. Job growth has picked up a bit this year but is still on track to come in below the 2014-2015 pace.

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HASSETT: “Small-business optimism is near the highest level in 35 years.”

THE FACTS: This is true. Small-business owners, as a whole, became far more optimistic about the economy after Trump’s election.

Many small-business people felt Obama was dismissive toward their efforts, particularly after his “You didn’t build that” comment in July 2012. Obama’s larger point was that governments helped create success by building roads, bridges, and the foundations for the internet. But his opponent at that time, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, seized on the comment as evidence that Obama didn’t appreciate small business.

Still, optimism doesn’t automatically translate into more spending or jobs. Small-business hiring has slowed in the past year as the unemployment rate has fallen to nearly an 18-year low. Larger firms are better able to attract workers in a tight labor market because they typically can offer higher pay and more benefits.

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HASSETT: “And I think that if anyone were to assert that the capital spending boom that we’re seeing right now was a continuation of the trend that President Trump inherited, then, well, they wouldn’t get a high grade in graduate school for that assertion.”

THE FACTS: It’s true that companies are investing much more in buildings, computers and other capital goods than they were in the last two years of the Obama administration. And some of that additional investment may have been spurred by the Trump administration’s corporate tax cut.

But another reason for the revitalization of business spending has been a turnaround in oil prices. Oil prices plunged in 2014 and 2015 from over $100 a barrel to roughly $30 a barrel in early 2016. They have since doubled to $67 a barrel. Those swings alternatively dampened investment in drilling rigs and other heavy machinery and helped send that spending higher.

Oil- and gas-related investment accounted for about 40 percent of the growth in business investment in the April-June quarter this year.

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Online:

White House charts: https://bit.ly/2CI6twl

Contact Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber

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