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Honoring Eisenhower at long last

Stephanie Akin, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

"In true bipartisan spirit, almost everyone hates it," wrote former senior editor Jeffrey Frank, who was also the author of a book about Eisenhower's relationship with Richard Nixon.

Conservative columnist George Will chimed in, writing in The Washington Post in 2015 that the proposed design would represent Washington "at its worst." He called the whole approval process a "saga of arrogance and celebrity worship."

And news that the Eisenhower family was on board in 2016 didn't squelch the criticism from The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, which said the finished work would be "one more inglorious pile on the Mall."

Roberts, the Kansas senator who heads the memorial commission, said the process, although fraught, was not unusual for a memorial of such scale. He pointed out that the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument near the Mall was held up for 40 years because of a dispute between family members and disability rights advocates over whether Roosevelt should be depicted in a wheelchair. Construction began in 1995 and the memorial opened two years later. A statue of Roosevelt in his wheelchair was added in 2001. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, likewise, took 27 years from its conception in 1986.

The Eisenhower proposal has already gone through almost all of a 24-step approval process for any monument on federal land in the District, as laid out in the 1986 Commemorative Works Act, which was meant to corral the "numerous groups" that wanted to put their stamp on the nation's capital.

It has the go-ahead from Republicans and Democrats on the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. It has cleared the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission, a 12-member board that represents federal and local constituencies with a stake in planning for the capital. And it has a waiver from Congress to begin construction without having all the funding in place, as the law requires.

"The boxes are checked; the permissions are given; the federal review agencies have done their reviews," memorial commission spokeswoman Chris Cimko said. "What's done is done. And here we go."

Opponents had hoped Trump would intervene. They noted his feud with Gehry over reports in 2010 that a building Gehry had designed in Manhattan was centimeters taller than a Trump tower next door, and that Trump had campaigned on trimming costs in Washington.

Those hopes appeared to be dashed in May, when Trump signed an omnibus budget bill that forked over $45 million to the commission to move forward on construction. The commission has already received $65 million in federal money, according to a 2014 congressional report. It is also collecting private donations toward a projected fundraising goal of $25 million. It has raised about half that amount, Roberts said.

According to its website, its largest donor category -- those who have given $1 million to $4.9 million -- includes Honeywell, FedEx and Pfizer. The government of Taiwan, a lobbying client of fundraising organizer and former Kansas GOP Sen. Bob Dole, is also listed in that category.

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