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Memorial War

Lawmakers Square Off in Dispute Over Monument to World War I Heroes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, one-time mayor of Kansas City, Mo., is trying to obtain national monument status for his hometown’s World War I memorial.

All Rep. Emanuel Cleaver wants is for his hometown’s World War I memorial to have the status of a national monument.

But as with most things on Capitol Hill, it’s not so simple for the Missouri Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus chairman, who might be forced to abandon his years-long mission in deference to the District of Columbia. 

Like most war stories, this one has a long history and unforeseen consequences.

During the 110th Congress, Cleaver introduced a bill to nationalize Kansas City’s World War I memorial — its adjoining museum is already the National World War I Museum. About the same time, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) sponsored a bill to nationalize the District of Columbia War Memorial, which commemorates the 26,000 Washington, D.C., citizens who fought in World War I and which is little-known and all but hidden on the National Mall.

Cleaver’s bill passed the House in the 111th Congress with only one Member in opposition. But it stalled in the Senate, with opponents arguing that the nation’s capital was the rightful place to host a national World War I memorial.

Senators reached a “two-site solution,” merging the bills to give each memorial a national designation, in addition to creating a commission to plan celebratory events for the Great War’s centennial in 2014.

Poe took up the compromise bill in the 112th Congress and asked Cleaver to sign on as a co-sponsor, which he did.

Things then got stickier.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) began speaking out against the new bill, calling it a hijack of a monument that District residents paid for “in blood and treasure.” She co-sponsored Poe’s D.C. memorial bill in the previous Congress, a move she said in retrospect was a desperate attempt to win money to refurbish the aging structure.

At a press conference last week, standing alongside Mayor Vincent Gray, she said she would lobby Democrats to pull support from the House bill, arguing that there was no way her allies would support legislation that is “anti-D.C.”

“If there are any Democrats on the bill, I’m sure I can convince them to get off it,” Norton said. “If Democrats are on the bill, they must think I’m for it.”

 

Facing Defeat

It all puts Cleaver and other Democrats in a spot nobody could have anticipated when he introduced his bill four years ago.

Cleaver signed onto the compromise bill last year solely as a strategy to get the national designation for the World War I memorial in Kansas City, where he served as mayor from 1991 to 1999.

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