Disappointed, but still determined, 15 Iowa sixth-graders woke up before dawn today and boarded a plane for the nation’s capital, still hopeful that they would get to visit the White House.
It’s been 10 days since the students of St. Paul’s Lutheran School, just outside Cedar Falls, Iowa, learned their White House tour was in jeopardy, a casualty of those across-the-board spending cuts.
“We have not gotten an answer, but our tour is not scheduled until 11:30 a.m. tomorrow [Saturday], so we are hoping for late-breaking news,” Karen Thalacker, chaperone and mother of 12-year-old Malcolm Newell, told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl shortly after their arrival in Washington.
The White House cancelled all public tours indefinitely as a result of the sequester cuts, saying they had to choose between nixing the tours or possibly furloughing Secret Service officers.
President Obama told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos earlier this week that the administration is trying to find a way to accommodate school groups, but it seems unlikely a solution will be reached in time for the students from St. Paul’s.
“The Secret Service and the White House are talking about what is possible. I would not anticipate that opening tours that soon would be possible,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week, when asked about the students.
One boy today told ABC News he’ll miss seeing inside the White House but understands the president had a tough decision to make.
Another classmate said, “We’re upset, but there’s nothing that we can really do about it. We’ve done our best to try. And that’s only really we can do.”
Turning their disappointment into a real-life civics lessons, the students launched a social media blitz to spread their message: “The White House is our house! Please let us visit!”
“We can make a difference. Maybe we’re just 12 and 11 years old, but that doesn’t matter,” one of the students told ABC today.
“These kids aren’t Democrats, they’re not Republicans, they’re American kids who want to see the White House, and everybody should be let in regardless of who’s living there,” Thalacker said.
While they wait for news from the White House, the students kicked off their Washington weekend with a visit to the Capitol, which remains open for business.
One boy’s first reaction: “Wow. It’s overwhelming. I never would have thought we could have gotten this far.”
House Speaker John Boehner’s office learned of their story and offered some special treatment, including a stop by the speaker’s balcony to take in the view of the Mall and the opportunity to go inside the chamber.
On Saturday, they’re still hoping to visit the White House – or at least get a look at it from outside the gates.