The monuments in Washington, D.C. — and particularly the World War II memorial — have become a symbol for the right to decry the government shutdown, even labeling the National Park Service shutdown “shock troops” designed to toss veterans out at will as they approach the memorial.
On Tuesday, Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) reportedly opened the barricade of the World War II Memorial to let a group of veterans in. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) helped by “distract(ing) a police officer” to sneak the veterans in, according to a reporter on the scene. Even outgoing tea partier Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) made an appearance.
“President Obama is so fixated on forcing Obamacare on the American people that he’s even willing to deny World War II veterans the right to access the memorial they have earned through their heroic service,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in a statement on Wednesday.
Republicans say President Barack Obama has been so obsessed with pushing a governmental shutdown that he’s refusing to allow anyone into the national parks and monuments (even though the National Park Service said on Wednesday that veterans would be allowed to visit the World War II memorial).
“These are guys who were not stopped by the Nazis, fascists, Axis powers, Kamikaze,” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said in an interview with right-wing CNS News on Tuesday. “These guys made it through all of that. And this is their memorial. Now we understand that with the shutdown, you’re going to shut down the pumps, we get that. But it really doesn’t take any more people to make sure that things are defaced from the inside than the outside.”
And who better to blame than the National Park Service, who erected the barriers after the shutdown? Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called the rangers “goons” sent by the president to keep the public out.
“If Harry Reid and the president want to keep the parks closed — I mean, did you read the story today? Some idiot in the government sent goons out there to set up barricades so they couldn’t see the monument. People had to spend hours setting up barricades where there are never barricades, to prevent people from seeing the World War II monument, because they’re trying to play a charade,” Paul said in an interview on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
Paul added that the Obama administration is putting up the barricades because “they like the shutdown.”
Paul compared the lack of public access to the memorial on Wednesday to another right-wing talking point: Benghazi.
— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) October 2, 2013
Like Paul, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt tried to tie the closed parks to the Obama administration’s health care law.
An Administration stupid enough to close WW2 memorial and cancel service academy sports is smart enough to run your health care?
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) October 2, 2013
Paul’s comments on Fox echo the sentiment of Ron Utt a “military history author” who formerly worked at the Heritage Foundation. National Review published an email from Utt saying that Obama has used the National Parks Service as “shock troops”:
In the past the employees of the National Parks Service have enthusiastically served as the President’s shock troops in going out of their way to maximize the inconvenience to the public of any federal shutdown, and this time around is no exception. Other than the museum/office, all parts of the battlefield and the two parking lots that serve it are open 24/7 even though staff depart at 5:00. Indeed it would be impossible to close it off since there are no gates or fences to secure it. Nonetheless the NPS staff have risen to the challenge and have placed orange cones at the four entrances to the two parking lots. Of course you can still visit the battlefield, you’ll just have to park someplace else. They have also locked the gates to the cemetery, suggesting that their play at partisan politics is more important than America’s right to honor its war dead. But even this egregious gesture is largely symbolic since the cemetery is unfenced in parts and the able bodied can simply walk up a grass hill to get in.”
National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring joined into the fray, citing reports that the National Parks Service turned away the Toledo Honor Flight Vets.
“This is how far Democrats are willing to go,” Dayspring wrote according to Dave Weigel. “President Obama and Harry Reid are willing to arrest, veterans of World War II. Why? The current position of Democrats in Washington is to vote against and veto Republican bills to open monuments and national parks, then to arrest veterans who try to visit them. That is disgraceful.”
There are, however, no reports of veterans getting arrested on Tuesday, and, as of time of publication, the White House has not yet respond to questions about whether the National Parks Service was being used as “shock troops” to keep veterans out of the memorials.
But the meme of fighting against the National Parks Service actually dates back much further than the current shutdown fight. In March, lawmakers warned that Obama designating five new monuments could hurt the federal budget.
“President Obama has closed the White House to public tours but he’s unilaterally ordering the National Park Service to spend scarce dollars on little-known, privately owned property in Delaware,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) told The Washington Times.
Experts on national parks and monuments reached by TPM were quick to note that monuments and national parks during a shutdown had to be closed because of the lack of personnel to provide security and serve other basic functions there.
Dick Ring, who formerly served as a Associate Director of the National Parks Service in Washington D.C., shot down complaints that the monuments and national parks have been unfairly closed during this shutdown.
“I think that’s nonsense,” Ring told TPM on Wednesday. “I mean, the national parks are the poster child for what happens when you shut down federal programs because they’re highly popular and highly visible so the effects of them are very easy to point to quickly but the effect of a government wide shutdown is pretty wide ranging from agency to agency and it gets progressively worse as it goes on. “
After the National Park Service opened up the World War II Memorial to veterans, Jeff Miller, one of the founders of the Honor Flight Network veterans group, said the service had “bent over backwards” to make sure veterans would have access to the park.
“The Park Service they have been so compassionate, they have done everything they could,” Miller said according to The Washington Post.
By Wednesday afternoon, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the RNC would offer to pay the costs of keeping the World War II Memorial open for the next 30 days.
“That’s not right, and it’s not fair. So the RNC has put aside enough money to hire five security personnel to keep this memorial open to veterans and visitors,” Priebus said on Wednesday. “Ideally, I’d hope to hire furloughed employees for this job.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) announced Wednesday afternoon that his panel is also investigating why the World War II Memorial and other monuments were shut down, according to National Review.
Photo illustration: Christopher O’Driscoll