WASHINGTON — The monuments and memorials in Washington and Philadelphia will once again be open to visitors, provided they’re there for “First Amendment activity,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday.
The D.C. monuments, and particularly the World War II memorial, have become a political flashpoint in the first 48 hours of the government shutdown. House Republican lawmakers — among them, conservatives who have ignored cries from fellow Republicans to support a Senate-passed bill that would re-open the monuments along with the rest of the government — have trekked down to the monuments to escort veterans in the Honor Flight program attempting to make regularly-scheduled visits to the memorial site.
Barricades set up by the Park Police were taken down on Tuesday with help from Republicans who blamed President Obama for the closure. The White House has said Obama will support the Senate-passed bill that would fund the government the moment it reaches his desk.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration attempted to take the World War II memorial issue off the table by allowing monuments to reopen for groups like the Honor Flight vets.
“My understanding is that the closure order provides a process for accepting First Amendment activities on National Mall and memorial parks in D.C. and in Philadelphia,” he said.
A Park Police public information officer in D.C. told BuzzFeed that the First Amendment activities exemption applies to all the memorials in the city.
Carol Johnson, a spokesperson for the National Park Service, said the accommodation for Honor Flight vets was not a change in policy.
“The Honor Flights are being granted access to the WWII memorial to conduct First Amendment activities in accordance with National Park Service regulations applicable to the National Mall and Memorial Parks,” she said in a statement. “This is consistent with the DOI Closure Determination and Notice issued on October 1, 2013.”
Johnson noted that the D.C. monuments, “just like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon,” remain “closed.”