March 9th, 2013
03:48 PM ET
2 years 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. JS

    It is time for all Obama blind supporters to realize the reality of this President. Everything he does is for political gain and not what's best for the country.

    So, among all the waste, fraud, redundant programs, entitlements waste, the White house tours was a must cut program? Not to mention the airport controls people. Why not, more pain that can be blamed on Republicans is good for business.

    March 9, 2013 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  2. Kari

    My family went to Washington DC last summer and we couldn't get tickets to see the White House – we were told they had cut back on tickets because of security. We took a bus tour of some of the important sites and our tour guide said he had only one family who was able to get tickets and they felt it was because they had donated a lot of money to different campaigns. Maybe this isn't quite the loss people think it is. I agree that President Obama needs to scale back his vacations and golf games. I also found the ABC watchdog report about portraits of people like our Secretary of Agriculture to be outrageous. We don't need oil portraits of these people at a cost of $28,000 to $40,000. I wasn't in favor of the sequester but as I hear stories about some of this wasteful spending I begin to think maybe it isn't such a bad thing.

    March 9, 2013 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  3. proskater

    of course, that'll make all of congress fight harder for those lobbying dollars, which will continue to corrupt the system until we defeat citizens united, but its a step. A CONGRESSIONAL PAY DECREASE IS THE FIRST THING OUR POLITICIANS SHOULD HAVE DONE. should've done it during the recession, should've done it now. :(

    March 9, 2013 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  4. berysax

    Is it really that hard to pick a date and stop taking reservations? They seriously had to just cancle people out of the whole thing?! Typical government style stereotype...

    March 9, 2013 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  5. whitepine

    I can't believe people are complaining about the White House tours being stopped. What you didn't think the cuts would not affect the White House? The Secret Service made the decision and yes, these federal employees (Secret Service) had to take a cut. Just think about the cuts to domestic programs and the people it will hurt. This is your Congress at work. If you want a better government, tell your Congressman to quit fighting and do some actual work. They could have stopped it but they decided to let it happen.

    March 9, 2013 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  6. Joseph Rowan

    I think President Obama will regret this dearly. Every US President has opened the door to the American public to have a tour of the White House. I don't believe the GOP should be blamed for this cause from where I stand, Obama hasn't made enough sacrifices. If he wants to have his legacy go down as a great president, he needs to make great sacrifices and he isn't doing enough. If nothing isn't changed quickly, I vote the American public vote the entire Congress out cause they can't agree on anything at this point.

    March 9, 2013 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  7. Name lynn

    Obama is not affraid of the white house leaders an the congress either, obama is a good an kind man watching out for the people an the immigrations as well the people dont like it but the lord is with obama.

    March 9, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  8. bruhaha

    OK, White House eliminates tours. I'm sure this will be a large part of the sequestration money saved. I bet Obama has also cut back on his taxpayer-paid golf outings. Nice to know he also shares the pain.

    March 10, 2013 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  9. Brian Smith

    Once they cut all the stuff that could possibly make the American people angry, then they will have to cut programs we don't need, like the F-35.

    March 10, 2013 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  10. Kisser

    So maybe the Obamas will opt to travel less – that could be some real savings. But, I really doubt that would be in their reality wheel.

    March 10, 2013 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  11. Jenni S.

    The President doesn't pass a budget, it is Congress that does that. The President can suggest a budget – which he has done – but it is Congress' Constitutional duty to pass a budget. They have not done a budget in years. It's not Obama that needs to cut $85 billion, it is Congress. Obama can make suggestions until he is blue in the face, but he has absolutely no control over the budget.

    March 10, 2013 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  12. cynthia

    $2 million here and $2 million dollars there and soon they'll be looking at real money adding up to $84 million.

    March 10, 2013 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  13. KM

    People scream that the government is spending too much money and beg congress to stop the over spending. Then when funds are cut they argue about why did you take "this" away and "that" away. That is why nothing happens in Washington because we all scream that it is broken and needs to be fixed but when the rubber hits the road we cry and yell and say things like I need that or I use that service so bring it back. If 84 million needs to be cut by the end of September for the Secret Service, something has to give. Do I want the White House tours to continue, yes I do but in saying that it means that something else in the budget is going to suffer.

    People say stop going golfing or things like that regarding the President. Just like you and I the President (regardless of who he or she is) can go anywhere they please, the protection detail comes with the job.

    March 10, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  14. John B

    It is such a beautiful Country. United States of America. How I would love to see the White House. I am a citizen, my Great Grand parents Peter and Janet came from Scottland to live here and make better lives for them. They had 6 children and my Grand father is one ( he is now 85). His parents never lived to see it. What more will be taken away? I doubt that the Closure of Tours or stopping of tours is even remotely going to repair our Financial Burden

    March 10, 2013 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  15. king

    Why isnt anyone talking about the tragedy such as thousands of kids getting kicked t. Its amazing how these repubs does stuff then blame the president for it, when it goes wrong.

    March 10, 2013 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  16. Anonymous

    The U.S. government has continued to print dollar coins and had elaborate advertising for using the "new" coins........but NEVER took the paper dollar out of circulation. They have wasted millions and couldn't figure out why the dollar coins would not work!

    It has been stated for years that to stop delivering Saturday mail would save billions annually. Now they have decided to stop.......in August! Why wait..........what is taking so long.

    Now Obama put a stop to White House tours...........to save money! Go figure that one out!

    March 10, 2013 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  17. JonQCit

    74,000 per week that goes into the pockets of secret service officers as overtime, it is crazy how much government spends, CUT CUT CUT. Bring spending back into balance.

    March 10, 2013 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  18. from_Calif

    Get used to it. The federal govt is currently borrowing 40 cents on the dollar. To balance the budget without raising taxes we'll need to see many many many many many many many many more cuts than this.

    March 10, 2013 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  19. Anonymous

    The President is playing politics, again. Cut congressional Salaries, Senatorial salaries, Presidential salaries, and cut 20% off their discretionary spending. No politician has had to make personal income cuts, What's up with this? They need to feel like the rest of us WORKING Americans.

    March 10, 2013 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
  20. Jay

    Typical Obama. Close the White House to famalies and take his buddies out to dinner on the taxpayer's dime.

    March 10, 2013 01:45 am at 1:45 am |
  21. Nopnuts

    Well I'm relieved to hear that the secret service will still get their overtime pay at the sacrifice of White House tours.

    March 10, 2013 03:02 am at 3:02 am |
  22. Dooppoop

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

    So... inorder to "save" money they keep their job with the same pay in the same building? Stop contradicting yourselves.

    March 10, 2013 03:17 am at 3:17 am |
  23. cynthia

    First: No one said the agents/guards would be working at the same times as they would have working during the tours, just that they would be reassigned to other duties in the White House. They will be rotated through the hours, no OT for extra guards needed for in-house security, covering for vacations, etc. That was my understanding from other reports. Second, blaming Obama for the lack of a budget is just nuts. Who has refused to work with the other guys? The ultra-right GOP/Tea Party. They say NO NO NO NO....Third: its 2 mil. here, another savings somewhere else..it ADDS UP. As opposed to the bonuses given to staffers in Congress.

    March 10, 2013 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  24. Willied

    We just sent 250 million to the middle east. Cut foreign aid and give us the White house tours. Real simple

    March 10, 2013 03:54 am at 3:54 am |
  25. SugarKube

    Typical needless scare tactic.

    March 10, 2013 03:54 am at 3:54 am |
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