Brownie troops, baseball teams and kids from places like Ottumwa, Texarkana and East Gondola who have been washing cars and saving dimes for years to pay for their senior trip, can scratch the White House off the list of places to see in Washington. In a fit of pique over how sequestration didn’t shut down the government, President Obama has canceled all public tours.
Last year, when things were going more his way and Mr. Obama was in a more generous mood, he called the historic building “the people’s house.” Clarity and hospitality before sequestration. Now, it’s hit the road. Or, more to the point, “don’t let the road lead you to us.”
“Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013, until further notice,” the White House said in a terse message on its Visitor Center hotline. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours.” The White House operating budget took a $1 million hit — chump change in the nation’s capital — and the president has to take it out on somebody.
Mr. Obama seemed to invite outrage, or at least a little pushback. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, weighed in on Twitter: “Canceling White House tours is childish and dishonest — the golf weekend in Florida cost enough to keep the White House open for months.” Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, another Republican, submitted an amendment to the continuing resolution that would have prohibited the president from using federal money to pay for outings to or from a golf course until the White House tours are restored.
Petulance and dreams of revenge hang heavily over the White House, where there’s considerable irritation that the predictions that grannies would starve and children would be thrown out of the orphanage didn’t come true. Closing the White House echoes many a schoolyard snarl: “OK, if you won’t play my way, then you can’t come to my house.” Except the White House is not the president’s house. Mr. Obama got it right last year when he called it “the people’s house.”
The White House has remained open to the public since it was built, with only a few notable exceptions. In 1814, during the War of 1812, the British army set the mansion on fire, sending Dolley Madison, who had stayed behind “to organize the slaves and other servants” when President Madison went away to confer with his generals, fleeing into the night with the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. In 1994, a light plane crashed on the White House grounds and the mansion was closed briefly, and in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing the next year, the Secret Service seized the opportunity to close Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, which made a convenient parking lot for the president’s bodyguards.
None of these measures quite matches the sound of a slamming door. Congressmen from both sides of the partisan aisle have condemned the White House pique. Mere tourists and the kids from flyover country are disappointed, and some of them are no doubt outraged by the charade. Who can blame them?
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'Your papers, please' must never be heard in America