- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

An objective assessment of risk should be the only determining factor in deciding whether to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, Vice President Richard B. Cheney says.
"If there is in fact a security threat, it would be probably silly to reopen the avenue. It ought to be based on some objective view of what the threat is, rather than sort of an emotional response to it.
"I like driving in front of the White House, too, but I do think you need to sit down and look seriously at whether or not having the street that close to the White House would enhance the risk to the president of the United States," he said.
Keeping the avenue barricaded would be contrary to a promise in the Republican platform. A plank in the platform says: "We will reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House as a symbolic expression of our confidence in the rule of law." President Bush campaigned on that promise as well.
Mr. Cheney said the issue is "complex" because it involves the security of the president. "There probably is no more attractive target to the bad guys than the president. So I think we need to be cautious in terms of how we proceed."
President Clinton closed the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue to cars, trucks and tourist buses on May 20, 1995, a month after a truck loaded with explosives destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
Mr. Clinton said he acted on the advice of a special panel and the U.S. Secret Service, which expressed concerns that the White House was vulnerable.
"Our position has not changed," Secret Service spokesman Eric Harnischfeger said yesterday.
After the closing, the barricaded street quickly became a symbolic caricature of open government.
"The transformation of Pennsylvania Avenue from a national symbol of freedom into a testament to terrorism is something average Americans tell me they cannot understand," Sen. Rod Grams, Minnesota Republican, said on the first anniversary of the road's closing. He led a failed attempt to have the road reopened.
Growing public sentiment in favor of reopening the avenue led to the appointment last week of a new panel of local and federal officials to examine proposals and make a recommendation to Mr. Bush. The panel, which includes representatives from the Bush administration, Congress and the District of Columbia, will work with the Secret Service and the FBI to review security at other federal sites throughout the area as well.
Several members of the task force have already expressed strong feelings about reopening the street.
"I think that it is the People's House and the citizens' street and should be open while still taking into consideration the safety and security of the White House," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.
The panel will revisit several plans that have developed over the years for Pennsylvania Avenue, including one for pedestrian bridges that would permit access by vehicles less than 7 and 1/2 feet or narrowing the eight-lane road to four and making it curve away from the White House into Lafayette Park.
While the closed section is only two blocks long, motorists must weave a complicated maze to get from one side of the city to the other. Several one-way streets make traversing the area even more difficult.
"It is separating just cutting Washington, D.C., apart. It's dividing us," Mrs. Cropp said.
After a gunman was shot Feb. 7 in the leg by Secret Service officers outside the White House back fence, far away from Pennsylvania Avenue, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "On the question of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president has spoken with the Secret Service, the president has spoken with [D.C.] Mayor [Anthony A.] Williams. He's going to continue to speak with relevant parties."
The District's mayor and other local officials stressed that the incident was irrelevant to the argument over Pennsylvania Avenue because it was so far removed from the White House.
"At this time, there is no reason to view today's incident and the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue as connected," Mr. Williams said on the day of the shooting.
Mr. Cheney said if the task force finds that a balance between security and public access can be established, keeping the avenue closed would make no sense.
"I think the judgment needs to be made based upon a realistic assessment of whether or not there is a threat. I don't think we would want to keep the avenue closed unless we believed there was a security threat," he said.

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