Four days after shuttering the White House to the public to cut costs, President Obama says he’s asking the U.S. Secret Service about the possibility of resuming tours for school groups, which have begun descending on the nation’s capital for spring break.
“What I’m asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups … who may have traveled here with some bake sales,” Obama told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an interview on “Good Morning America.” “Can we make sure that kids, potentially, can still come to tour?”
Obama’s comments suggested, contrary to previous statements by the administration, that the decision to scrap the tours fell solely to the Secret Service.
“I have to say this was not a decision that went up to the White House,” Obama said in the interview. “But what the Secret Service explained to us was that they’re going to have to furlough some folks.
“The question for them is, you know, how deeply do they have to furlough their staff and is it worth it to make sure that we’ve got White House tours that means that you got a whole bunch of families who are depending on a paycheck, who suddenly are seeing a 5 percent or 10 percent reduction in their pay,” he said.
An administration official, seeking to clarify the president’s remarks, stressed that the decision to cancel the tours never came to the Oval Office, falling personally to Obama, but that it was ultimately made by White House staff.
“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,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week.
Secret Service officials also told ABC News that the decision to cancel the tours was made by the White House, although the agency first proposed the move as a possible cost-saving measure. The Secret Service has to cut $84 million because of so-called sequestration; canceling public tours saves $74,000 per week, the agency said.
“I’m always amused when people on the one hand say the sequester doesn’t mean anything and the administration’s exaggerating its effects; and then whatever the specific effects are, they yell and scream and say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Well, there are consequences to Congress not having come up with a more sensible way to reduce the deficit,” Obama said.
One group of sixth-graders from Waverly, Iowa, which had planned to tour the White House later this week, has launched a grassroots lobbying campaign to pressure lawmakers and the administration to open the doors at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
A new website produced by the students - “The White House is OUR HOUSE” – urges people to call and email the administration to reinstate the tours and features a catchy web video they hope will go viral.
The tactics they’re using to pressure the White House are the same ones Obama has often tried to leverage against Congress.
Related: Obama Says There is No Debt Crisis