Annoying motorcades are a fact of life in Washington D.C.
Protected members of the President’s cabinet or leaders from Congress regularly mangle and stop traffic as they get zipped across the city in black SUVs, flanked on all sides by flashing police bikes and blacked-out Secret Service vehicles. They are always in motion. You seldom see them stopped and waiting, which is why it was confusing to see a long line of police and Secret Service vehicles barricading the World War II Memorial in D.C. on Wednesday.
What was up? I regularly monitor the daily schedules and events of the most powerful people in our government. I saw nothing stating any VIP would be visiting the memorial today, Pearl Harbor Day. I parked my car and walked the long distance to the memorial out of curiosity.
Police blocked the entrance of the memorial. Five heavily armed SUVs sat idling under the watchful eye of armed Secret Service members, with their iconic black sunglasses and earpieces on full display. The motorcade was certainly executive branch. A memorial service could be heard over the loudspeaker, presenting a program for the humble audience of one hundred people gathered in the open cement patio at the monument.
Yet, in a break from typical Secret Service security protocol, the WWII Memorial was not on lockdown. There was no secure perimeter with magnetometers and TSA sentinels wielding wands, frisking every attendee who walked in.
It was open to the public.
My curiosity piqued as I entered the memorial. There, sitting amongst the processional was none other than Vice President-elect Mike Pence. He was flanked by WWII veterans, some who served during the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR’s grandson and Senator John McCain.
So why was this stop not on the Vice President-elect's schedule?
According to a top Pence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Mike Pence did not want to cause a “distraction” by being on the official schedule, he wanted the event to revolve around the veterans present.
The official said Pence merely wanted to “sit in the audience” and not be recognized.
“He wanted his presence to be a gesture of respect to the veterans in attendance,” said the source. “If the event was placed on the Vice President-elect's official schedule, Secret Service would have had to lockdown the entire area, subjecting the veterans in attendance, some in wheelchairs, to metal detectors and other invasive security procedures.”
Pence, the official said, wanted everyone to remain focused on something much more important: the sacrifices made by America's military veterans.
The small audience in who showed up at the memorial on the brisk December day seemed delighted with Pence's attendance. One National Park Service employee working the event told me, “We had no idea [Pence] was attending until the Secret Service showed up. We were saying, 'Who the on earth is that?' Oh, it's the Vice President.”
Pence laid a wreath at the Gold Star Wall honoring those Americans lost in WWII and after the taps were played, he was off to New York, as silently and swiftly as he had arrived.