March 9th, 2013
03:48 PM ET
1 year ago

White House tours stop running, families disappointed

Washington (CNN) - Elouise Wafer's kids thought they had arranged the perfect gift for their mother's 70th birthday.

A former history teacher, Wafer had always wanted to stroll through the White House, a building she had taught about in school for decades.

Sylvia Atkins, her daughter, arranged for a tour through a member of Congress–then she, her sister and Wafer made the journey together from Dallas. But the plane ride had a dash of disappointment.

Shortly before departing Texas, Wafer saw on the news that the White House would be canceling public tours beginning Saturday - the same day as her scheduled slot.

"This was my golden opportunity," Wafer said. "I really wanted to see some of the things that I had studied in school and taught about in school. I wanted to see it in real life."

Wafer was one of many tourists whose White House plans were scrubbed when the White House decided this week to cut the tours through September 30, the remainder of the fiscal year.

The move came days after Washington failed to come up with a plan to avert $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration. Federal agencies across the board are making changes to their budgets.

Ryan Dosier, another visitor whose tour luck ran out, was skeptical of whether the walk-throughs deserved to be on the chopping block.

"I just, I don't know how much this is really saving," he said. "I can't imagine that me and two other people is a big expense for them.”

The U.S. Secret Service told CNN Thursday that the plan will help the agency save $74,000 per week - or $2 million in the next seven months. That's how much it costs to pay 37 uniformed officers $50 an hour for 40 hours a week to secure the tour's route through the East Wing.

But that's just a fraction of the $84 million the Secret Service needs to cut from its $1.6 billion budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The officers normally assigned to the tours will be reassigned to other duties at the White House.

“The Secret Service, like other agencies of government is affected by the sequester,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his Thursday press briefing. “And the Secret Service presented options that ranged from canceling tours to potential furloughs and cuts in overtime. And in order to allow the Secret Service to best fulfill its core mission, the White House made the decision that we would unfortunately have to temporarily suspend these tours.”

Some Republicans were quick to blast the Obama administration for nixing the tours, arguing it was a political move designed to draw up more negative public reaction over the cuts and pin all on the blame on the GOP.

"This is nonsense," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday on CNN's "The Situation Room." "This is punishing the American people."

Gingrich called on President Obama to end his golf outings and use the money saved to refund the tours.

"The president will use up more Secret Service time guarding him while he golfs than it would take to keep the White House tours open all year," he argued.

He wasn't the only one. Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas submitted an amendment to a funding measure in the House this week that would require the president to stop golfing until the White House resumed the tours.

A White House spokesman said Tuesday that this was just the first consequence to the forced spending cuts that began taking effect March 1. And White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that more White House employees will face pay cuts and furloughs.

"We're also faced with making some tough decisions when it comes to ongoing projects," he said during the daily press briefing. "But we're also a pretty personnel heavy agency."

The self-guided tours are typically arranged through a member of Congress. Natalie Cooper had obtained a ticket through the office of a senator from North Carolina for her son's 8th birthday.

Standing outside the White House Saturday, shortly before noon, Cooper told the birthday boy, Aaron, that they would no longer be getting a tour.

"I was pretty upset about it," she told CNN. "He had his own bucket list and on that bucket list was D.C. and the White House, so it was a little bit upsetting."

Aaron had already told his class he was going to the White House and added that he was "sad, very sad." But, he said, they had plans to see more monuments and museums in town.

Other visitors - who didn't have tour plans - felt less upset about the cancelation. As one couple from Canada said, "Cuts are cuts."

The White House Visitors Center, however, will remain open seven days a week. Located just southeast of the White House, the center - through the National Park Service - offers guided tours around the White House area for free every hour. The center also shows a 25-minute video of the different rooms in the White House.

While Wafer won't get her own tour of the White House for her 70th birthday, she said she's not letting the disappointment ruin her Washington vacation. Among other stops, Wafer took a tour of the U.S. Capitol.

But, just like any good teacher, she was more concerned about the students.

"Kids are out for spring break, and they don't get a chance to come (here) all the time," she said. "This is a good time for them to visit the White House."

– CNN's Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Lesa Jansen contributed to this report.


Filed under: Newt Gingrich • President Obama • White House
soundoff (122 Responses)
  1. Name Catmandew

    Thank GOD for our fearless leader and his grand plan on the budget. It has worked so well I for one am totally impressed with Obama and his ability to pass a budget since he became President! Hey at least he might have to stick with his plan! At least he can't blame this on Bush it is his law he made it he signed it!

    March 9, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    "The officers normally assigned to the tours will be reassigned to other duties at the White House."

    So then, how much money is being saved by the white house?

    March 9, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. hoosier1234

    "The officers normally assigned to the tours will be reassigned to other duties at the White House."

    So how much is the White House actually saving? Sounds like petulance on the part of Obama, to me.

    March 9, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  4. hoosier1234

    As a baby, one of my sons was playing with dozens of tiny cars in the middle of his bedroom floor. An older brother came in and began playing with only one of them. The baby screamed bloody murder at that.

    Obama has to cut 85 Billion. The total 2013 estimated spending is somewhere around 3.7 TRILLION dollars.

    Now, Obama is the one screaming bloody murder and punishing people by idiotic cuts because someone is taking away his tiny little car.

    March 9, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  5. norma jean

    COMPLAIN...COMPLAIN......Can't you people do anything but complain????.. if the WHITE HOUSE is temporarily closed to tours....there is a reason... Just because the loud mouths can't explain it doesn't mean there isn't a viable reason... Get over yourselves. Some years back I was on a Washington tour with a bus load of school kids and we were supposed to tour the W.H. but at last minute we were told we couldn't be accomodated!.. What did all the kids say..." OK so let's go to the Lincoln memorial" LEAVE IT TO KIDS TO ROLL WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS.

    March 9, 2013 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  6. DorisV

    This is about the worst spending cut I can imagine. Cut some of the expensive dinners and feed the senators or others bologna or tunafish salad sandwiches. That is what many Americans have been eating for a long time to make ends meet.

    March 9, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  7. cbr

    The people's house should be open to tourists. The Secret SErvice and the President need to open it back up. People who come to Washington should be able to see the White House. Tours should not be part of the cuts.

    Congress needs to make cuts and our elected House and Senator members need to work with the President to make cuts.It is time that members cut some of their privileges and perqs. So far they have let aides go which only drives the unemployment numbers up. They can choose to work four or five days a week. They can shut down the Capitol and office buildings from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. They should make their cuts known to their constituents.

    People have been notified about furloughs so the austerity program has started. It would be very unfair to make cuts that hurt everyone else and not them.

    March 9, 2013 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  8. Neutral Observer

    You ever notice that whenever cuts are mentioned, it's always threat to layoff firemen, police officers, parks, museums etc? Why can't they eliminate "walk around" free money to EBT cards or free stuff for illegal immegrants?

    March 9, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  9. Roger 10-4

    The fearless leader isn't even there. He is traveling all over the country, spending more money. Money this country is borrowing. What a joke he is. Not even worth mentioning his name. An old man once said "He don't worth 2 cents"

    March 9, 2013 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  10. Evan

    That's like saying the Smithsonian is discontinuing allowing visitors for the remainder of the year to save money, or for that matter, theaters are discontinuing showing new releases for the remainder of the year to save money. The assumption is it is COSTING them for visitors.

    In my day, and perhaps I'm revealing my old age, businesses actually charged MORE than their COSTS to make a PROFIT (or at least BREAK EVEN). If the White House charged $250 per tour, and broke even, problem solved? Now I realize that's old school math. The implication is the White House could charge $10,000 a tour and it still would lose money somehow. I suspect they're putting on a show for the public, i.e. "We must cut costs across the board." Nevermind that if they did simple math on a calculator, they would arrive at a tour charge that would pay for those guards and other expenses in running the tours.

    However, in all fairness, it's possible this is subterfuge for another problem, like worrying a terrorist will book the tour and commit a suicide bombing inside the White House with plastic explosives that are undetectable by current technologies. Maybe there's a method to their madness in stopping these tours until they can increase their screening technologies (and tour rates)?

    March 9, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  11. Pander Express

    Obama has to cut 85 Billion. The total 2013 estimated spending is somewhere around 3.7 TRILLION dollars.

    --

    False. The sequester cuts do not apply to the entire federal budget. The tiny little car includes special education programs, research, airport security, education aid. and what are you screaming about? White House tours? Get real.
    How many needy kids can $74,000 a week help.

    March 9, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  12. Mark

    Boy imagine what would have to get cut if we trimmed $1T from the budget in order to balance it? Republicans are screaming about this, but they should be applauding because every little bit helps, right? Can't keep all your goodies and cut spending too. That's been the problem all along. Cut taxes, raise spending, borrow the difference. Nobody loses except future generations.

    March 9, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  13. Kathy

    $50.00 an hour???? wow maybe a cut in pay in is line. Seems a great deal of money to watch 3 citizens walk through a few rooms in the white house.

    March 9, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  14. CB

    So how much is the White House actually saving? Sounds like petulance on the part of Obama, to me.

    ---

    Try reading the article

    March 9, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  15. Lee

    Obama needs to grow up and start doing his job!!!

    March 9, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  16. Mark

    The cuts were stupid because NEITHER side would work together – attempting to put this on Obama, Dems, or GOP is just very typical partisan trash. It's not convincing anyone.

    March 9, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  17. 1608

    The world didn't stop.

    March 9, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  18. hornetbut

    sad way to prove a point...

    March 9, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  19. db

    You can blame Obama for stopping these White House tours. He has closed the people's house. Obama would rather send MILLIONS to Egypt along with F-16 fighters and Abrams tanks instead of keeping that money here to help Americans. Just another little disgusting stunt by Obama to punish the people because he didn't get his way.

    March 9, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  20. Brad

    This is Obama's fault

    March 9, 2013 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  21. Kenman

    So much for the "most open and transparent" White House! The king is slapping us down because someone dared to say no more!

    March 9, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  22. reader10

    The President gets his own tour watching his daugther
    playing basket ball.

    March 9, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  23. Bennycat

    Here's a thought: how about cutting the tours of Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Europe, etc.

    March 9, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  24. cc3

    When did it become the President's job to pass a budget? Why all of this moaning and groaning (from mostly the right) about how "Obama's budget" is terrible or he hasn't passed one in four years...etc., etc.? Seems these people ought to drop by a local high school and attend a civics class (that is, while they are still funded with public monies and not totally sold off to a corporation).

    March 9, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  25. EvilWithinUs@hotmail.com

    Get rid of the residents, too.

    March 9, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
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