Rep. Neugebauer drawing ire, formal complaint for confronting park ranger at WWII Memorial
TRISH CHOATE Scripps Howard News Service
9:28 AM, Oct 7, 2013
9:31 AM, Oct 7, 2013
WASHINGTON--Outrage mounted Friday against Rep. Randy Neugebauer on the heels of his confrontation with a National Park Service ranger last week at the World War II Memorial.
Frustrated over restricted access because of the government shutdown, the Texas Republican angrily confronted a female ranger while a camera rolled. The lawmaker said the Park Service should be "ashamed" of itself for not allowing visits to the open-air memorial.
Now, as the video goes viral, Neugebauer is facing blowback. The White House, a government watchdog, bloggers and numerous social media users chimed in to support the ranger, hurl insults or scold the conservative congressman with Tea Party leanings.
The storm of criticism ranges from a tweet of support for the ranger from Vice President Joe Biden's office to a formal complaint alleging Neugebauer was rude, to a hail of angry tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram comments. Some critics demanded Neugebauer apologize.
"That ranger, a public servant, deserves a personal and public apology from you. Are you man enough to give her one?" retired Park Service official John J. Reynolds wrote in a letter posted on the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees' website.
An online petition calling for Neugebauer to apologize -- "it's really that simple" -- had 1,442 supporters and counting by Friday afternoon, at change.org.
Friday, Neugebauer addressed the controversy briefly: "I want to be clear: I meant no disrespect to the park ranger, who was simply doing her job."
While a Washington TV station filmed Wednesday, Neugebauer asked the ranger how she could restrict access to the memorial, saying "The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves." The ranger said it was "difficult," and apologized, adding, "I'm not ashamed."
In the wake of the video, Biden's office tweeted support for the chastised Park ranger, and called her as well to say, "I'm proud of you."
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington took the outrage to the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The nonprofit government-watchdog group filed a complaint, alleging Neugebauer "berated the ranger" and violated a House rule that congressmen act "at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House."
"Rep. Neugebauer's demeaning treatment of the ranger reinforces the commonly held belief that members of Congress are arrogant and have an over-inflated sense of superiority," Melanie Sloan, CREW executive director, said.
Neugebauer said in an interview Thursday he has no beef with the ranger.
"She was doing what she was told to," he said.
His beef was with the Park Service and the White House, Neugebauer said. He was concerned that an honor flight of World War II veterans from his district might not be able to access the memorial, as well as frustrated the public couldn't get in, and put off by the expense of sealing it off.
The Park Service blocked access after the shutdown took force Tuesday, but had relented by Neugebauer's visit. The agency has been letting veterans onto the grounds of the memorial, but not others.
The video prompted Twitter users to hurl insults and chastise the congressman.
"Major mistake, you hypocrite," @GabrielRumbaut tweeted.
"Yelling at Smokey Bear won't help," @abnormalbrain tweeted.
While reaction to the video was everywhere, Neugebauer was scarce Friday.
His office didn't respond to messages, and voice mail picked up at his congressional office.
The confrontation has become another controversial chapter in the shutdown resulting from the budget impasse in Congress between House Republicans and the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House. Both want to pass legislation to fund the government, but some Republicans are using it as leverage to tinker with the Affordable Care Act.
(Scripps Howard News Service Washington correspondent Trish Choate can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Trish_in_DC.