The hope of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas was that a memorial near the National Mall to the state’s favorite son, Dwight Eisenhower, would be ready for the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France, which Eisenhower had led on D-Day.
But getting the memorial done by June 6, 2019, will be tough, even though Congress and the White House are squarely behind the project.
President Donald Trump put money for the memorial in his 2018 budget proposal this week. Congress provided funds in a spending bill this month. But Washington bureaucracy has many layers, and new snags could delay the project.
Roberts, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, now hopes the memorial to the supreme allied commander and 34th president will be at least partly complete by 2019.
“Here’s a man who saved Western democracy and Europe in World War II and gave us eight years of peace and prosperity here at home,” Roberts said in an interview this week. “There should have been a memorial for him a long time ago.”
But even the muscle of the legislative and executive branches of government isn’t enough.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts raised fresh concerns last week about one of the most fought-over aspects of the memorial’s design: tall stainless steel mesh screens that depict the scenes from Normandy, where Eisenhower led the D-Day invasion in 1944.
Commissioners worried that the public might not be able to understand exactly what it’s seeing. They didn’t reject the design but asked the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to see more. The memorial commission is now waiting for the arts body to explain in greater detail what it wants to see.
Roberts said he hoped the development wouldn’t delay the project any longer.
“The great majority of us on the commission say, ‘Hey, look, let’s get this built,’ ” he said.
Congress originally authorized the memorial in 1999 to be built on a 4-acre site a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. It was held up for years because of a disagreement between architect Frank Gehry and the Eisenhower family design.
After years of squabbling, progress finally seemed imminent.
Back in September, former Secretary of State James Baker intervened to broker a compromise between Gehry and Eisenhower family members.
Roberts and former Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole have raised $10 million in private funds for the project on their way toward a goal of $25 million for the approximately $150 million project.
Congress helped, releasing $45 million in construction funds in a spending bill that passed earlier this month. Trump got behind the project in his budget, including $85 million in his fiscal 2018 plan – in spite of his past confrontation with Gehry over Manhattan real estate.
Trump tussled with Gehry several years ago over a residential tower in Manhattan designed by the high-profile architect to be slightly taller than one of Trump’s adjacent properties.
Last year, after President Barack Obama awarded Gehry the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Canadian-born architect said Trump’s speeches reminded him of Hitler’s. “It’s just frightening,” Gehry told an audience at a Toronto art gallery in December.
There’s more bureaucracy ahead. Construction can’t begin without final approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission. Approval from the planning commission first requires approval from the arts commission.
Supporters of the memorial have another sense of urgency: Only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still living in 2016, and supporters want to complete the Eisenhower memorial before those who served under him are all gone.
One of them is Dole, 93, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee.
“I want the country I fought for — the country that has benefited from Ike’s leadership, resolve and vision — to honor Ike,” Dole said last year. “Now.”