Well, the friendly Obamas greeted visitors as the White House tours resumed Tuesday. Apparently they found some money somewhere to stop the White House from continuing to get beaten over the head for closing the gates to the public.
Now that it’s become clear that closing up the White House failed as a measure to help prompt a mass uprising against the GOP and the sequester, the People’s House is open again.
The White House is pleased to announce the resumption of a limited schedule of East Wing and Executive Residence tours, beginning on November 5th. Additionally, the White House will be opening its gardens and grounds to visitors on October 26th and 27th.
Members of the public interested in scheduling a tour of the East Wing and Executive Residence should contact their Member of Congress.
The government shutdown is done, but the sequester that originally halted the tours continues, so it’s not clear where the White House found the money.
Secret Service spokesman Robert Novy said the tours would continue through Jan. 15 and occur three days a week, on average, though the exact number of days would vary. Before the White House halted the tours in March, they had taken place five days a week.
“Last year’s sequestration came midway through the fiscal year, and we were unable to adjust or re-allocate remaining funding to continue tours while still ensuring enough funding remained to meet all operational needs and avoid furloughing our employees,” Novy said. “In light of the new fiscal year, the Secret Service is confident that through the Continuing Resolution tours can operate on a limited schedule while still meeting operational requirements.”
Either that or the White House decided an effort to create bad PR for the sequester failed and tours might as well resume. Take your pick.
The Senate will vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to force the White House to start allowing public tours again — one of a series of high-profile showdowns senators have scheduled as they push to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
After days of stalemate, lawmakers agreed to hold votes on the White House tours, on cutting off funding for political science research and on keeping meat plant inspections up and running in spite of the budget sequesters.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney today said that while some exceptions to the suspension of White House tours will be considered, the policy will stand and the gates to the People’s House will not be broadly reopened.
“The decision to cancel tours generally won’t be revised,” Carney said, asserting that the Secret Service would otherwise be forced to make cuts or furlough employees.
With the pressure still on, Carney sought to ascribe blame to Republicans, whom he says are responsible for the implementation of the sequester.
But the public relations disaster is mounting, despite White House attempts to elude blame for the debacle. Here’s an example of why the White House may want to reconsider:
President Obama said in an interview with ABC News that he will ask the Secret Service to consider whether “there are ways” to restart White House tours on a limited basis.
“Well, what I’m asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups – you know, who may have traveled here with some bake sales,” said Obama, who spoke with George Stephanopoulos of Good Morning America. “Can we make sure that – kids, potentially, can – can still come to tour?”
The tours were suspended last week as part of what the administration has said are efforts to comply with the sequester. Obama claimed the decision to cancel the tours was not made by the White House, blaming the Secret Service instead.
“You know, I have to say this was not – a decision that went up to the White House,” Obama said.
“But th– what the Secret Service explained to us was that they’re gonna have to furlough some folks,” he continued. “What furloughs mean is– is that people lose a day of work and a day of pay. And, you know, the question for them is, you know, how deeply do they have to furlough their staff and is it worth it to make sure that we’ve got White House tours that means that you got a whole bunch of families who are depending on a paycheck who suddenly are seein’ . . . ”
Obama also appeared to blame House Republicans for the suspension of the tours, saying “there are consequences to Congress not having come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit.”
Canceling the White House tours saves the nation a relative pittance, lending credence to Republican charges that shuttering the People’s House had more to do with politics than the sequester.
According to ABC News, stopping the tours saves the federal government only about $18,000 per week, even as it causes massive disappointment to many – including schoolchildren – who had been planning for weeks to visit the White House.
ABC calculates that the White House is open for visits for about 20 hours per week and the tours require around 30 Secret Service agents at $30 per hour.
ABC White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, who filed the report, ran into House Speaker John Boehner on Capitol Hill. Boehner commented, “We’re open.”