October 1st, 2013
12:26 PM ET
1 year ago

Veterans break past World War II Memorial barricade

Update 1:45 p.m. ET: House GOP leadership sources tell CNN they plan to vote on a series of bills to fund the government, beginning Tuesday with three measures–spending for veterans, the District of Columbia and the Park Service.

Washington (CNN) – Busloads of World War II veterans, many in wheelchairs, broke past a barricade Tuesday morning to cross into the World War II Memorial, as onlookers applauded and a man playing the bagpipes led the way.

Moments earlier, a few Republican members of Congress had removed a section of the black gates that surrounded the site, allowing a line of veterans to roll past security officers, who willingly stood aside.

Veteran Donald Quinn of Pascagoula, Mississippi, said he was pleased with his visit to the memorial, despite the initial blockade.

"I'm surprised to see so many people here and so many important people, but I've enjoyed it," he said. "At first I didn't think I'd come, but I'm glad I did."

Photo by Laura Koran

Photo by Laura Koran

The National Park Service closed all of its parks, including national memorials, as a result of the federal government shutdown that went into effect at 12:01 a.m ET.

But a spokeswoman from the National Mall and Parks Service said efforts were no longer being made to hold anyone back.

"These are important visitors," Carol Johnson told reporters, adding that they're seeking guidance from the director's office on "where we go next."

"Obviously we did not want to do anything to mar the trip of these people," she said, saying the visitors came from Mississippi and Iowa. "They've come here specifically to see the memorial that was built for them."

Some Republican members of Congress and a Democratic senator were on site, blasting the federal government for fencing off the memorial. Outraged and baffled, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, crossed through an opening in the railing earlier in the morning–before the breach–and got on the phone to try and reach the secretary of the Department of Interior.

"I don't get it. I'm furious. I'm trying to get a hold of people," he said, standing on the other side of the barricade and looking around for help. "But I can't seem to get a hold of anybody."

Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

Harkin faulted Republicans for what he called their "nonsense" legislative push that led to the shutdown.

"Obviously I can walk here," Harkin said, as he walked past the barrier. "Why can't I walk there?" he added, pointing at the memorial located not far away.

A few House Republicans were also at the memorial to disparage the government for closing off the landmark on a day that veterans were set to arrive.

Rep. Steven Palazzo, one of the congressmen who helped move the gates, argued the decision to close the memorial may have been more of a political ploy than a bureaucratic oversight. The Mississippi Republican said it makes no sense to close an open-air monument and compared it to prohibiting someone from touching a tree.

"All Americans should have access to the monuments, but if there's one group, it's our greatest generation, and this might be the last opportunity in their lifetime to visit their memorial," he said.

"We've got park service employees out here," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, before the gates were opened.  "Why wouldn't you have them here to allow the veterans in, instead of stand and keep them from coming in?"

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, wearing casual clothes, said she was out walking when she heard about the pile-up outside the memorial and decided to hustle over to the site.

"The last thing we should see in America is a barricade for World War II veterans to be prevented from coming to their memorial," Bachmann said.

She vowed she and colleagues will be there "today, tomorrow, the next day, however long it takes" to keep the memorial open.

"America is not shutting down," she said. "If we have anything to say about it, we're going to keep this open."

Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

All Honor Flight visits include a bagpipe processional. Photo by Laura Koran/CNN

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, called the moment heart-warming, if infuriating that intervention was necessary in the first place.

"We don't have guards around them at any other time," King said of the monuments in a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

He referred to the gating off of the memorial as "a completely spiteful act," by President Obama, comparing it to the White House canceling school tours in the aftermath of the automatic budget cuts of the sequester. "Perhaps the most bitter, spiteful act ever committed by a commander in chief."

When asked why Obama would personally order the memorial closed off, King said he couldn't get into the president's head. But "the secretary of the Interior is not going to make such a spiteful decision," he said. "This has to be a White House decision."

Most of the veterans who arrived at the World War II Memorial came courtesy of nonprofit programs, including Honor Flight Network, that transport the aging men and women to Washington.

Johnson, the spokeswoman for the National Mall and Parks, said the memorial hosts Honor Flight visitors every day.

"We want to make sure that they have a good time and are enjoying the memorial, but legally, the National Mall and the memorial are closed," she said.

Asked if she was off the clock and volunteering her time, Johnson replied: "Apparently so."

– CNN's Bryan Koenig contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • Washington D.C.
soundoff (343 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    This has got to be the phoniest outrage I've seen. Outrage is if one of those vets picks up a rock and throws it at Bachmann's head.

    October 1, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  2. Ashamed

    Look at the nation we have become. DISFUNCTIONAL!! All the countries we are trying to convince to become democratic are looking at us and scratching their heads!!

    I do not care what district you represent. You represent all the people of the United States, so start doing your job or get fired and not paid!

    October 1, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, wearing casual clothes, said she was out walking when she heard about the pile-up outside the memorial and decided to hustle over to the site. ....... "America is not shutting down," she said. "If we have anything to say about it, we're going to keep this open."
    She sees the need to keep the memorial open but don't see the need to keep people on the job.
    I am not buying into her performance. Just another opportunity to create "talking points."

    October 1, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  4. Confused

    Wait, so Michelle Bachmann has vowed to stay at the memorials to ensure visitors and veterans aren't kept away? Why doesn't she vow to get back to work, figuring out how to get a budget passed, thus reopening the parks that she is so upset are closed (by her doing). She is pretty much directly protesting against herself and her actions. Along with the other idiot House members that are at the Memorial.

    October 1, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. dsk

    The Republicans control the House the Democrats the Senate. What we need is a compromise. Where is Henry Clay when we need him? I know he was white and from the pre-Civil War south so he is evil, but we need someone who can look past politics. I thought the president was going to be a person who would unify our country, guess not.

    October 1, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. Scott Sullivan

    God bless these WWII vets and more power to them.

    October 1, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  7. RW0rld

    As I recall it was an open memorial – walk through largely uncontrolled. There may be a few guards to protect against vandalism, one to very few maintenance staff to clean up after those unthoughful visitors who would trash the landmark, but otherwise zero expenditure. No electronic resources, information systems, administrators, etc. So why would they barricade it. It makes no sense they would have selected this measure for this particular resource, unless it was done to inflict as much pain as possible and to direct public opinion. The same considerations made under sequester to ensure the sequester affected the most public services and draw the most criticism. These childish tactics are not unfamiliar to the general public and only create embarrassment for both political sides of the dispute.

    October 1, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  8. RL

    what do you mean the legislators were shocked this was closed. DUH! Government shutdown! Read the papers, watch TV! Idiots in every sense.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  9. aaron

    Never let it be said that a politician would miss a PR opportunity to criticize the very mess that they caused. As for Bachmann, having to endure her is a cruel and unusual punishment for anyone who fought for their country. She should be required to wear a sign saying that she actually works for the billionaire Koch brothers, not the people that elected her.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  10. Eric

    Maybe the Senator would get an answer on the phone if the Dept. of the Interior had a budget authorization. Since they don't, I'd consider answering to him or anyone else in Congress non-essential.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  11. callmecrazy

    Totally staged.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Adam on page 2:

    @Tampa TIm, you're an idiot:) All disabled Vets still got paid today, and the GOP or Democrats know touching veterans benefit money is political suicide. As a side note I received a pay raise every year of active duty that W. Bush was in office.
    ---------------------–
    As a result of the Great Bush Recession, the salaries of government employees have been frozen, which the Tea Party just loves.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  13. Mr. Logic

    @ Alex R.- Don't encourage people to break these laws. The moment they begin to do that, they begin to break other laws. Then our beautiful National Parks will have 4 wheelers, ATV's, and dune buggies on every path, litter across every trail, and with nobody to clean up after these people or police their actions. National Parks without Park Rangers are actually very dangerous places. Did you know that Mexican gangs grow marijuana on the Blue Ridge Parkway? Did you know that they arm themselves, and protect themselves against nosey hikers? I think I'd want a Park Ranger around for those folks...

    @ Sister Valium- there are only a handful of living vets left from WWI. They sure aren't shutting anything down except the on-ramp to I-40... No offense, I am grateful for what they did, but lets be realistic.

    @John Rosen- don't be dumb. It is a misunderstanding of orders from boss to employee, down many lines, dealing with a matter very few have dealt with- shut down and closure of National Parks and Monuments. I'm pretty sure none of these minimum wage employees even wanted to deal with this today. Not to mention- Michelle Bachman grandstanding- her votes have directly led to the government shut down! How can she be surprised and appalled by what she sees here? Two faced. Its her attempt (with the tea-baggers) to disparage America.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  14. Noel

    No money for memorial;however, they are still paying that criminal Lois Lerner.

    October 1, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  15. Kevin

    Much respect to those Veterans.

    October 1, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  16. Just Sayin'

    I have to call out the stupidity of a fellow Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin. Not because of his stance that the veterans who traveled to DC to see the WW2 memorial should see it. But for saying: "I don't get it. I'm furious. I'm trying to get a hold of people," standing on the other side of the barricade and looking around for help. "But I can't seem to get a hold of anybody." Senator, perhaps you've heard about this federal government shutdown?

    October 1, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  17. jack

    How ironic that members of both parties responsible for the shutdown was there to open the gates.

    October 1, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  18. Kevin

    Where did they get the money to make all of the, "The Govt is Shutdown" signs from? I am just saying.

    October 1, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  19. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Maybe the security officers should step aside at the congressional offices as well...

    October 1, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  20. MicMin

    The Republicans never want to compromise. Obama's motto "It is my way or no way." He has forgotten he is the President of ALL the people. He knows Obamacare is not working. He can give all his pals a delay, but the people that will be funding Obamacare, get no delay. Obama will (as he always does) blame Republicans. He needs to grow up or go back to his parents basement playing games.

    October 1, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  21. sly

    The Republican Party of Stupid has just out-dumbed themselves.

    Amazing what morons the GOP has placed in the House. They are led by an illegal Mexican from Texas who seems to have the IQ of, well, most illegal Mexicans. No offense to Mexicans, but the illegals tend to be farmworkers and such and haven't completed much education.

    October 1, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    If the ACA had been defeated in 2010 and Obama had been defeated by Romney in 2012 after campaigning on re-introducing the ACA in his 2nd term. Would it be acceptable for the Democratic controlled Senate to tell the House that they must pass, and tell President Romney that he must sign, the ACA now or else they will shut down government?

    October 1, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  23. ellid

    This is entirely Boehner's fault because he won't stand up to the THIRTY Tea Partiers who are screaming and turning blue over a bill that was passed three years ago. Absolutely disgusting, and I hope the public remembers this when these fanatics are up for reelection next fall.

    October 1, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  24. Mark

    Congress knows these deadlines are coming months in advance, yet they always wait until the 11th hour so they can have their showdowns. As for the Veterans breaking past the barricade, who bussed them in. Sounds pretty much like a childish Republican/Tea Party ploy.

    October 1, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  25. Halverstan

    Don't you find it odd that the people who are responsible for making our laws are so willing to flout them? Why are members of congress not obeying the rules that they themselves have enacted? I'm sure that one of us would be in jail right now if we "chose" to ignore the signs. This comment is irrespective of my views of the shutdown, but "Come on people!"

    October 1, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
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