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World War II veteran George Bloss looks out over the National World War II Memorial in Washington on Tuesday. Veterans who had traveled from across the country were allowed to visit the memorial after it had been officially closed because of the partial federal government shutdown. After their visit, it was closed again. (Carolyn Kaster / The Associated Press)
Some Republican lawmakers on Tuesday opened barricades the National Park Service placed to shut down the World War II Memorial and let about 350 World War II veterans inside over park ranger objections.
The lawmakers included Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
The veterans — roughly 200 from Mississippi and 150 from Iowa — had traveled to Washington on an Honor Flight with plans to visit the memorial, but their appointment at the memorial was canceled due to the government shutdown. But the lawmakers Tuesday morning moved metal barricades so the veterans — some in wheelchairs — could visit the grounds of the memorial.
All federal monuments have been shut to the public as part of the government shutdown that went into effect at midnight Tuesday.
“I would not say they were allowed in,” Park Service spokeswoman Carol Johnson said of the veterans. “They went in.”
By about 12:30 p.m., the veterans had returned to their buses and departed, but dozens of members of the public remained on the memorial grounds. Johnson said that rangers were waiting for guidance from their superiors on whether to allow people to remain at the memorial, close it, or make exceptions to allow certain visitors. She said that the veterans would not face any charges or punishment for entering the grounds, which she said remains technically closed to the public.
“Some people are angry,” Johnson said. “This is certainly not something the Park Service wanted to do. It’s our job to make sure our visitors are safe. Our rangers are first aid certified, CPR certified, they make sure that our visitors are safe.”
Bachmann told reporters at the memorial that roughly eight to 12 Republican lawmakers in all were involved, and lambasted President Obama for the shutdown.
“I think the president fails to appreciate our constitutional republic, where we all sit down and work together,” Bachmann said.