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Not Set in Stone: Congress Weighs In on Planned Eisenhower Memorial

Courtesy Gehry Partners LLP, 2012
The proposal for the memorial celebrating President Dwight Eisenhower includes a bas relief image of the general with 101st Airborne troops (above) and a depiction of the president as a child, but some aren’t happy with that design.

Republican Reps. Dan Lungren (Calif.) and Aaron Schock (Ill.), chairman and member, respectively, of the House Administration Committee that oversees the Capitol grounds, wrote their own letter in support of the Eisenhower family, joining them in wanting “a more traditional design that truly depicts President Eisenhower’s character and accomplishments.”Members of Congress are certainly within their rights to complain. Congress mandated the memorial’s creation in 1999 and has appropriated funding for the undertaking each year since. In all, the memorial will cost $90 million to $110 million.

However, some lawmakers who serve on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and have leadership roles on the National Parks subpanel say they and their peers should withhold judgment until they get more information.

“I understand concerns about reports that the Eisenhower family is not supportive of the monument design, but I do believe it is important for all Members to be informed about the design and the controversy before taking a position on the issue,” Simpson said.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the National Parks subpanel, agreed that he “need[s] to hold back” in advance of the hearing. 

Ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) added that he saw his role as that of an arbiter among the disputing parties.

He also hopes Congress will not have to resort to legislation to resolve differences that might be difficult to reconcile.

“I hope we can mitigate and get the sides to work together,” Grijalva said. “I think once we start legislating and directing to the commission, then the unraveling we are worried about is going to happen.”

Roberts, a senior member of the commission, also suggested to Roll Call that he hopes Congress keeps its input limited.

“The House has several committees that are interested in this, but the end result will be the commission that makes the final decision,” he said.

Too Many Cooks?

Not all lawmakers on the National Parks subcommittee or the Eisenhower Memorial Commission are heeding the advice to stay on the sidelines.

Moran told Roll Call he likes the proposed memorial concept: “I like it from a Kansas point of view by portraying Dwight Eisenhower as a Kansan, a young Kansan.”

Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), who serves on the subcommittee, went the other way: “I’m not overly impressed with it right now.”

In light of these conversations, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has requested a delay in the April 5 meeting it had originally scheduled with the NCPC, indicating that the process of reaching an agreement on the design will be drawn out.

“We want to make sure we give a chance for the family’s input to be heard, and for different members to have an opportunity to hear from us,” said Carl Reddel, the commission’s executive director.

A halt in immediate consideration by the NCPC also means lawmakers will have an extended opportunity to weigh in on the design, especially as the hearing is likely to create a broader awareness of the issue on Capitol Hill.

But Reddel said he welcomed continued Congressional feedback. In fact, he says, it’s what Eisenhower would have wanted.

“Eisenhower was exceptional among all presidents for his respect for Congress and its people,” Reddel explained. For Congress to be involved, he added, “is appropriate.”

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