March 9th, 2013
03:48 PM ET
9 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. hot air warrior

    Republicans wanted cut. Now they are getting cuts. Stop the complaining.

    March 9, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  2. Robert

    What should really happen is that Congress should be docked 20% of their salary and living expenses for as long as it takes to settle the budget! Sort of like taking the allowance away from the kid that messes up.

    March 9, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  3. schaz

    Security guards being paid $50 per hour?? That is $104,000 per year. Probably plus benefits.

    Where do I sign up?

    March 9, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  4. robkoz

    So the Obama administration gives billions to foreign countries yet cut things for Americans. Sounds like Obama's taking lessons from this countries school districts.

    March 9, 2013 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  5. Ready for next

    We need a new King!

    March 9, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  6. Rachel

    Obama is like a toddler having a temper tantrum because he couldn't get his own way. I'm sure if we stopped paying for his numerous outtings and golf we could afford the white house tours. Obama is just a spiteful and mean spirited president who is an embarrassement to this country.

    March 9, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  7. Sagebrush Shorty

    So the taxpayers who own and maintain this house cannot go inside and look at it?

    March 9, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  8. sambo

    BO not a good thinker

    March 9, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  9. Larry L

    Hard-working, dedicated civil servants, many of them veterans, will lose over 20% of their paychecks due to the sequester. Too bad about the tours – but do people really think that's a problem? The sequester is a cheap political stunt by the Tea Party Republicans. Many people will lose their savings and their homes due to the sequester. The fat-cats the Republicans protect won't lose anything. I will work very hard to defeat every Republican in 2014.

    March 9, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  10. Larry L

    Moronic analogy. Real people are harmed by the sequester and the Republicans will pay the political price in 2014.

    March 9, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  11. Will S

    They are cutting non-essentials. Tours are non-essential.

    March 9, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  12. Chris

    Closing the White House to save $2 million over seven months. Can we get him to stop traveling to Hawaii at $7 million a pop?

    March 9, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  13. anonymous

    what are they afraid of? Or are they trying to win the "petty politics" game.

    March 9, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  14. John V

    Hate that for the disappointed citizens. Just glad obama got his golf game in...

    March 9, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  15. Getoverit

    “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts."

    – Barack H. Obama Nov. 21, 2011

    March 9, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  16. AFact

    Come on people...The Secret Service is implementing mandated cuts–not Obama. Do you expect him to rule on cuts at all levels of every agency. Of course not. This is the result of Republicans doing everything from Day 1 of Obama's first term to cause him trouble.

    March 9, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  17. B. Boneil

    Stopping White House tours was a huge mistake by this administration. It cost them a whole lot of credibility.

    March 9, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  18. G_Edwards

    Over $10,000 a day for tours of the WH?!!??? Sorry, but start charging, like the National Parks.


    March 9, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  19. Bart Fargo

    So will the "37 uniformed" SS officers who would otherwise be "secur[ing] the tour's route through the East Wing" at "$50 an hour for 40 hours a week" be laid off, furloughed, or paid at a lower rate for their time spent working the same hours? I'm sure other costs are involved with the tours, but justifying their cancellation on this basis alone is ludicrous since the SS men will still need to be paid no matter how they spend their time working. Likewise for the cost of security on Obama's golf outings. When Obama is not golfing, but doing real work like going to meetings, travelling abroad, or speaking to the pubic does he not still require security? Apparently the federal government hopes the public will believe whatever line of PR horseschit is fed to them when it comes to plans for cutting spending.

    March 9, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  20. Jon Samuel

    Obama warned us a dire consequences with the sequester and all we see is this phoney stunt to stop WH tours which saves no money since the agents will just do other things. No one is fired.

    March 9, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  21. Ancient Texan

    The Prez is going to make this as painful as possible so that he can say," told you so"and blame it on the loyal opposition. He plays politics 24/7 and the good on the nation is not on his list of priority things to do.

    March 9, 2013 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  22. Leocatz

    Wow Hoosier, I have no idea how you're making a connectino between your kids playing with cars and this article. If you don't like Obama, just say you don't like the guy.

    I don't get folks screaming for cutting government spending and then complaining when they hear about specific expenditures or services being discontinued. Most Americans believe we need to get the federal finances in order... and we have widely differenting priorities. Face reality, we're all going to have to give up some things we value. WE're going to disagree with where some departments make their cuts.

    Remember, with the sequester every affected department loses 2%. Therefore they have to decide what they currently provide that they will stop providing.. or provide less effectively.

    You might also note that the ending of tours came from the reduction in the secret service's budget – and the secret service making recommendations to the WH. The WH selected ending tours from among the options presented. Since we don't know what those other options were, who knows – you might have even selected the same thing.

    And BTW – it's not Obama who needs to cut $85 Billion. It's Obama AND Congress. Congress is the only branch of our government authorized to approve expenditures.

    March 9, 2013 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  23. Bob

    Maybe if our President would avoid one trip they could keep tours going. Every time he makes an appearance somewhere there are the pre-trips that the secret service has to make, as well as any other agency. Then a day in advance his car is flown to the airport of the arriving city. Then Air force one and the decoy plane are flown with their fighter escorts.

    March 9, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  24. maltese falcon

    $50 an hour! Amazing.

    March 9, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  25. Belvarie Varnado

    Obama is the most vindictive person I've ever seen. To stop the White House tours. He does not respect or like the American people anyway. He has probably wanted to do this for a long time and just used this poor excuse.

    March 9, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
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