The White House would like to see state and local governments hold celebrations over the Fourth of July to mark Independence Day as the country continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, just not at the Mount Rushmore national monument, despite repeated requests.
South Dakota GOP Gov. Kristi Noem on Tuesday tweeted a letter her office received from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs that said: “Thanks to the Biden administration’s whole of government pandemic response, the United States has made incredible progress in vaccinating Americans and getting our country back on track.”
The letter continued: “On July 4, because of our strong response, America will mark independence from the virus by celebrating with events across the country. … We welcome you to join us by hosting your own events to honor our freedom, salute those who have been serving on the frontlines, and celebrate our progress in fighting this pandemic.”
The administration’s letter and statements struck Noem the wrong way.
“What a hypocrite. President @JoeBiden wants ‘a summer of freedom’ where we ‘mark independence from the virus by celebrating with events across the country.’ Translation: fireworks are fine at the White House, but not at Mount Rushmore,” she wrote on Twitter.
Noem has been battling the Biden administration for months over her desire to put on a fireworks display at the monument like she was allowed to do last year after the Trump administration’s National Park Service approved it. Then-President Trump even came and held a campaign rally.
But in March, the Biden NPS rejected the state’s application to hold a fireworks display, claiming that “risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors” were among the deciding factors, according to Regional Director Herbert Frost.
He also wrote that “the park’s many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial,” while further expressing concerns about COVID-19.
In an email to The Hill following Frost’s decision, Noem spokesman Ian Fury said the governor “is going to do everything in her ability to ensure that we can celebrate America’s birthday with fireworks at Mount Rushmore.”
“The best place in America to hold such a special celebration would be Mount Rushmore, fireworks included,” he said.
In response, Noem’s administration filed suit against the Biden administration after receiving no response to repeated requests to reconsider the rejection.
“After telling us they’d ‘circle back,’ the Biden administration has not responded to our request to uphold the Memorandum of Agreement between the State of South Dakota and the National Parks Service (NPS) to host a safe and responsible national celebration and fireworks show,” she said in a statement in early May.
But earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Roberto A. Lange, an Obama appointee, rejected South Dakota’s lawsuit, noting that while a fireworks display at the monument seems like a good idea following a year’s worth of pandemic restrictions, “This Court cannot say that NPS’s decision was arbitrary and capricious under (law).”
“This Court fully understands the State’s position and why this suit was brought, but under governing law, the State is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its claims and has not met the requirements for the sort of mandatory injunction or writ of mandamus sought,” he wrote.
Noem vowed to appeal the decision.
“I am disappointed that the court gave cover to this unlawful action with today’s decision. But rest assured, this fight is not over,” she said. “My legal team will appeal so that we can return the Fireworks Celebration to Mount Rushmore and celebrate our nation’s birthday at America’s Shrine to Democracy for next year and in the future.”