This post has been updated.
Just as Senate leaders were announcing Wednesday morning a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, House Republicans on the other side of the Capitol held a previously scheduled hearing berating the National Parks Service director, demanding to know why some open-air parks and memorials were closed during the shutdown.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), pictured above, asked why the parks service allowed 2011 Occupy Wall Street protesters a 100-day encampment in downtown Washington, D.C., but turned away visitors on the National Mall in October.
“On the very first day of the closure, I implemented a closure order for all 401 national parks in compliance with the Antideficiency Act, and immediately, immediately, that day, also included as a part of that order that First Amendment activities would be permitted on the National Mall,” said National Parks Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
“Do you consider First Amendment activity to walk to a monument that you helped build, or is it only smoking pot at McPherson Square?” asked Gowdy.
“The First Amendment activities are content neutral on First Amendment and on the National Mall,” Jarvis responded.
The monuments in Washington, D.C., and in particular the World War II memorial, become a symbol for conservatives to decry the shutdown, which was triggered by a quixotic effort by conservatives to defund Obamacare.
Some Republicans accused the National Park Service of being the White House’s “shock troops.” Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) even got into a heated exchange with a National Park Service Ranger, caught on camera, telling her the Park Service should “be ashamed of themselves.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) noted later in the hearing that Republicans were villifying park service rangers for an end they helped cause by withholding funds for Obamacare.
“You can’t create something and then pretend you’re outraged with the results,” he said.
Jared Huffman (D-CA) slammed his Republican colleagues for throwing around what he claimed were baseless accusations, charactering the hearing as a “kangaroo court.”
“This is worse than fiddling while Rome burns,” he said. “This is fanning the flames while Rome burns.”