March 9th, 2013
03:48 PM ET
10 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.

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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. danielle78

    Why is everyone blaming Obama? It takes two parties to reach a negotiation. Doesn't anyone remember republicans saying they were going to block any bill the President has tried to push? I think Congress, republican AND democrat, need to start working together and to stop being so divisive for divisiveness' sake. The American people are sick of the gridlock and stalling. It is childish, and a functioning country, must learn to work together, for the benefit of the people... you know.... the people that gave them their jobs, in the first place.

    March 10, 2013 04:10 am at 4:10 am |
  2. Another Name

    Gingrich knows how to save money and make tough decisions. He knew, for instance, how to save himself money by abandoning his wife in a time of great need. Maybe these people could take a tour of Gingrich's home instead.

    March 10, 2013 04:10 am at 4:10 am |
  3. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    "This is nonsense," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday on CNN's "The Situation Room." "This is punishing the American people."
    Hey, I think lightbulb almost went on for Newt. The sequester IS punishing the American people - duh.

    March 10, 2013 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  4. MondWolf

    The budget cuts have to be done by the end of the Fiscal year. Which is Sept. 30th. This is a publicity stunt.

    March 10, 2013 04:29 am at 4:29 am |
  5. reefer7

    So...if the "tour" officers are just being reassigned...where the heck are the savings here?!?!?!?!?

    March 10, 2013 05:25 am at 5:25 am |
  6. Brath

    This is nothing new, whenever a president wants some thing, it's common to shut down the Washington monument, or the white house, because it raises public attention to the point the President wants to make, and weather it is a good, or bad thing, it can sway public opinion, and get stuff passed, without politishions holding on to their belifes

    March 10, 2013 05:56 am at 5:56 am |
  7. loops808

    Obama is trying to make these cuts hurt the public as much as possible. The Capital was able to anticipate the cuts and has managed to continue the tours of the Capital. The White House belongs to citizens of the United States and not the president. It is obvious Obama is playing political games. I wonder if Obama is willing to cut any vacations and cut his golf outings? I doubt it, but will the media call him on it.

    March 10, 2013 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  8. aaron

    What a pathetic excuse for a president we have. He is atrocious and pathetic in so many ways. I could care less about his skin color. He uses the people as a shield and this white house visitation thing is a mess... poor lady wanted to see her freakin white house as a tour and it's cancelled and this is .0000002% of the budget... of all things to cut, the tour was cut to punish Americans... what a truly disgusting and pathetic administration... new lows man new lows...sad i'm ashamed to be an american.... lower case american.

    March 10, 2013 06:13 am at 6:13 am |
  9. accidental tourist

    run that by me again: 37 White House uniformed security officers are getting $2000 a week? Over $100,000 a year each? Am I the only one that thinks that's too much? On the subject of budget cuts, however, I'd say that planning a budget is like packing a suittcase to go on vacation. "Might as well take this, it doesn't weigh anything ... why not take that; it doesn't take up any space..." and when you've made your selections without bothering to ask "do I REALLY need that, you find that the suicase won't close and it's too heavy to lift. The lesson in this? Everything weighs something, everything takes up space, and every budget item has a price.

    March 10, 2013 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  10. eleanor

    White house tours are a non-essential service, though savings is relatively small. It is preferable to furloughs of essential working people, who do pay taxes. Social Security does not add to the deficit. "Chained" and "Superlative" CPIs under consideration with what may be the intent to privitatize Social Security in the long run as a sop to the GOP is much more objectionable. It is appalling that a so-called Democrat elected as president betrays the very people who voted for him by considering this non-solution that has such dire consequences for millions of senior citizens..

    March 10, 2013 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  11. Deano

    Shame on this government. Shame on them. Getting us to a point where nobody cares.

    March 10, 2013 07:31 am at 7:31 am |
  12. GI Joe

    They should cut the congress' allowance. In addition to their way to high salaries, they get about 1.3 million EACH

    March 10, 2013 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  13. GI Joe

    They should cut the congress' allowance. In addition to their way to high salaries, they get about 1.3 million EACH FOR THEIR "EXPENSES". Then they get cash from lobbyists, so cut them, and cut them deep. They only work 3 days ever 2 or 3 weeks. Boo hoo hoo hhoo.

    March 10, 2013 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  14. craptastic

    And I just spent a grand to send my kid on a school trip to D.C., I thought the White House was owned and paid for by the American people? My landlord gets to inspect our house, why shouldn't we?

    March 10, 2013 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  15. W.G.

    Those republicans are ruining everything !

    March 10, 2013 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  16. PLongton1013

    "This was my golden opportunity," Wafer said. That was your golden opportunity? Dang girl I am so sorry for you.

    March 10, 2013 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  17. mindcrime

    Stop whining about Obama, people.

    This is an issue of partisanship, and crybabying on both sides of the table.

    Or did you guys forget when Republicans signed a charter saying they'd never support anything Obama brings to the table?

    The guy has been trying to work with these people, and he's doing his best, but at the end of the day there's not a lot he can do, as he's not a dictator.

    Maybe when Republicans forsake their oath to ignore anything Obama proposes, everyone can stop being infants and get some work done, like a 10 year budget.

    March 10, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  18. Sam Smith

    I'm so tired of this bunch at the WH, and we will have to be stuck with them fr another 4 years. Hw much do the trips tat Michee has taken have cost us? I bet it is in the hundreds of millions. She usually travels in a separate plane from Obama. The equivalent of a couple of her trips could fund the tours. Unfortunately, we are getting the government that we deserve, the politically correct crowd must be happy now.

    March 10, 2013 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  19. Peter Baker

    It's obvious to the American people that government spending cuts are absolutely necessary. It is also obvious that because Obama didn't get his way he wants to make these cuts look as hurtful as possible.

    Do you think the country would fall apart if we had 50 senators instead of 100? I doubt it.

    March 10, 2013 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  20. Katy

    The problem isn't the tours, it's the ABSURD amount of money these people are being paid!! $50 an HOUR for 40 hours a week?!?! NOT NECESSARY!!!!

    March 10, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  21. Kev

    I hope this backfires on Obama. How about cutting the billions being wasted on the Train to Nowhere in California, and use that savings to reopen the White House for tours.

    March 10, 2013 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  22. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    If the GOP wants the White House re-opened for tours, then work out with the president how to work out the funding by cutting something less important. What are their suggestions?

    March 10, 2013 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
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