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. jodyhall77

    Make it hurt Barry! You show those low info voters what happens when they don't vote democrat!

    March 9, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  2. Robin Jones

    The people who are whining about the tours being cancelled obviously do not understand the President's priorities. It's much more important for our Messiah-In-Chief to play one or two rounds of celebrity golf than to allow Americans to tour the White House they are paying for.

    March 9, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  3. YourKidding

    Are you kidding? I this is why our Government is broke. 37 people get paid a 100K a year for guarding the White House. Could CNN even question the numbers before printing them. The administration is on full retreat over this bone headed decision. So they run out some talking head that feels it is necessary to present overblown information to try and support a terrible decision.

    March 9, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  4. David F

    "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.

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

    So if the officers aren't being furloughed or laid off, just doing other duties, how is this saving any money? It sounds to me like it isn't saving a single dime.

    March 9, 2013 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    What a joke.... He's playing the america people against the government... Have you noticed that every cut is a service to the public. The feds could cut billions of HUD homeownership programs these programs are a huge drain on the tax payer. Forget it i'm wasting my time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 9, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  6. Dave

    I am republican, I demand cuts. Obama is a socialist who just wants to spend my money. Wait you can't cut my stuff! Obama shouldn't cut across the board, he's just playing politics. I meant across the board up to where it affects me!

    March 9, 2013 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    We've saved and made payments all year for my daughter's school trip to DC. This was one of the things she was most looking forward to, and she'll probably be an adult before she can go on her own. We're just weeks away from the trip now. I feel robbed, and I am really not looking forward to telling her. What money are you saving us if those employees are being moved somewhere else and still paid? I mean, I don't want anyone losing a job, but no money is being saved, so what is the purpose- just punishment for Americans. Shame on you, using school kids as pawns in a political game.

    March 9, 2013 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  8. lance

    $50 bucks an hour to stand next to a door? I'll do it for $30.

    March 9, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  9. ErM650

    Wasn't the debt around 10 Trillion when Obama took office and he added around 6 Trillion in his first 4 years? With another estimate 3.7 Trillion this year (totalling ~$20 trillion) wouldn't that mean that Obama single-handedly doubled the entire history of our deficit within 5 years?

    March 9, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  10. Jake

    Quite pathetic and childlike behavior from Obama – wish I could say I was surprised but I'm not. When he stops golfing and holiday trips on Airforce One I might start to believe he is serious about saving money

    March 9, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  11. Steve Lyons

    Since the government needs the money, we the people need to demand rent from the Obama for living in OUR white house. And we need to collect rent from members of Congress for the use of OUR property. And start extending that to ALL government offices. If you want to be a government employe, you can darn well pay the rent.

    March 9, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  12. Ed1

    Why doesn't Obama and his staff do like the rest of us get a real job I would like the dog sitters job I understand it pays very well at our expense. Everyone that have a Government job should take pay cuts like the private sector when they don't have the money.

    March 9, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  13. anna.

    why can;t the free shoffering stop all you are the ones making big bucks we have to pay for our gas why can;t you,

    March 9, 2013 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  14. Mike

    Gingrich is one to talk. If he had won th secret service on the Mars base and the cost of leaving his wife, if she got sick would have been through the roof.

    March 9, 2013 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  15. mookie1972

    I guess it was congressional bonuses or White House tours. Looks like the congress took care of themselves again while the White House is running around like Chicken Little claiming that the sky is falling

    March 9, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  16. cgs

    White House tours? Really? Obama is looking pretty silly these days!

    March 9, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    so can he play golf when he starts tours again. and then we are spending more money? think before u speak repubicans. i think obama would rather raise taxes a bit, close corporate subsidies(which are ridiculous) and keep social security but u selfish people wont let it happen. so lets cut where we can like white house tours(i think its awesomely ironic and a perfect move), maybe flush white house toilet less and how bout reducing pay for all of congress. that would show that not just obama, but all parties feel our pain. want ur party back repubs?! vote to cut ur salaries by 10% and much of ur travel expenses. we the people would appreciate it. 🙂

    March 9, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  18. Endeavor

    Only one thing should stand out to any American who reads this: they were paying 37 people $100,000 a year ($50/hr) to "secure the tour's route." I won't pretend to know how a Whitehouse tour should be secured, but I do think that paying 37 people twice an average professional's salary is atrocious and wide open to ridicule – because of both the number of people and the amount paid.

    But instead, we just hear about how the "White House tours stop running." Layers, people, look beyond the layers. This was a failure made long ago that has finally materialized, and instead of seeking a solution (i.e. reasonable spending for the tours), we're just going to waste the same amount less often. That's like a failing business refusing to open 7 months out of the year so that it loses money less often.

    March 9, 2013 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  19. City On A Shining Hill

    Reminds me of a certain French king and queen, who lived large while their impoverished peasant citizens did without.

    We always admire the CEO who takes the $1 salary when company revenue is way down, to preserve jobs.

    Well, the president is like a CEO, and acting more like that certain Marie Antonette, who famously said,"Let them eat cake". Well, that cake is turning out to be disappointed children not able to see where the famous CEO is now living:
    But, the golf games and vacations must go on, at taxpayer expense!

    Liberalism. Got to love it!

    March 9, 2013 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  20. Susan

    People lost jobs on the sequester. And someone has the nerve to complain they didNt get to tour the White House. A few minutes of silence for these pitiful folk who didNt get to see the rooms. They could have toured the Capital, but guess you couldn't complain about that! Our petulant little people want ONLY the White House. Get over it, we don't always get what we want. This measure of austerity is brought to you by the Republican Party, so go home and call their offices.

    March 9, 2013 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  21. Science!

    Haha, well of course the Canadians weren't annoyed. Were you expecting something different?

    March 9, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  22. proskater

    eliminating white house tours is a perfect move(shows for the first time ever that govt has to suffer, too). obama doesnt want to cut social programs which help millions of people plan for our future as a nation determined to protect our diversity, to maintain quality of life and to preserve an education system that will continue to promote our future leaders. hey repubs, want ur party back?! pass a vote to cut ALL congress members salary by 10% and drastically reduce travel expenses. that would show u care, instead of some golf initiative. cmon, feel the pain like the rest of america.

    March 9, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  23. Aaron

    "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."

    What eight year old has a "bucket list"?

    March 9, 2013 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  24. actorforchrist

    A uniformed Secret Service agent makes $104,000 a year? The average salary of a uniformed police officer is $39,000 a year, and I'm fairly sure they face multiple times more danger than someone charged with guarding Eleanor Roosevelt's china cabinet. I can see paying the guys who run alongside the motorcade that kind of money, but this is just another example of the budget issues that plague this government.

    March 9, 2013 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  25. Jeff

    The White House is the people's house. When the doors are closed, transparency disappears. It is then that the people can no longer trust their government and must begin the task of opening the doors once again.

    March 9, 2013 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
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