The National Park Service opened the World War II Memorial to veterans Wednesday but kept it closed to the public amid an outcry from Republicans.
Republicans seized on the decision as a symbol of the Obama administration’s intention to inflict unnecessary pain on people from the government shutdown, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) offered to pay to keep the memorial open.
The Park Service struggled to explain why barricades to the open-air memorial — normally open 24 hours a day — were necessary beyond citing guidance that federal facilities have to be closed in a shutdown.
GOP lawmakers who visited with veterans questioned why the government took the extra effort to add barricades in the first place. While park rangers are among the federal employees furloughed, it’s normally possible for visitors to see the World War II and other Mall monuments at all times.
“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be open, an open-air monument for all to see,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who was on hand at the World War II Memorial to greet Missouri veterans.
Hundreds of World War II-era veterans who had been long scheduled to visit the memorial had no trouble entering it on Wednesday.
Johnson said veterans groups from the Honor Flight Network would be given access to conduct “First Amendment activities,” which she said was consistent with the Interior Department’s shutdown procedures.
The Parks Service also seemed to shrug its shoulders as barrier fences were ignored at several points along the National Mall, including the Vietnam Memorial.
Parks officials at the World War II Memorial on Wednesday helped move the fence blocking the south entrance to the memorial so veterans could enter and leave. One joined the procession of onlookers shaking the hands of the veterans as they left the memorial.
The GOP attacks on the administration came on different fronts.
In the House, lawmakers moved legislation to fund the Park Service in order to keep monuments and parks open. The White House has threatened to veto the measure.
Some Republicans used the fight to attack the administration over the terrorist attack last year in Benghazi, Libya.
“Obama sent more protection to the World War II Memorial than he sent to Benghazi,” Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) tweeted. Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulHealthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth GOP rep: Trump could be 'one-term president' if healthcare bill passes Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief urges Congress to approve budget boost | Senate fight over NATO addition MORE (R-Ky.) made a similar comparison less than an hour later.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus offered to pay for five security guards to keep the World War II Memorial open.
“The Obama administration has decided they want to make the government shutdown as painful as possible, even taking the unnecessary step of keeping the Greatest Generation away from a monument built in their honor,” Priebus said. “That’s not right, and it’s not fair.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney accused Republicans of grandstanding on the issue, stating that they shouldn’t have been surprised at the closing.
“The fact is, when you shut down the government, you shut down a lot of services,” he said.
Democratic National Committee Communications Director Mo Elleithee said Republicans should pass a clean stopgap funding measure if they want to reopen the monument.
“It would save the economy a lot of money and get the memorial and government open a whole lot faster,” he said.
Veterans visiting the memorial Wednesday from Kansas, Missouri and Illinois said they were appreciative of the lawmakers’ assistance, but they didn’t mince words about the lawmakers’ failure to stop the shutdown.
“I think it’s the damndest thing I ever heard of,” Kansas City resident Bob Hines, 92, said of the shutdown. “I think the government is so screwed up that they’re ruining a hell of a good country.”
Bo Bohannon, 88, told the lawmakers greeting him at the memorial that he was happy to see them out there on the sunny day.
“I like seeing politicians sweat,” he told the lawmakers.
Bohannon, who is visiting Washington from Overland Park, Kan., said that both parties were at fault for the shutdown.
“I think it’s a hill of beans,” the former Army engineer said. “I just blame them for not being able to get together. I think they’re both equal.”