In a national capital debating a government shutdown and a debt crisis, one issue has consumed the media: the White House ban on tours. And so far, the White House is fighting an uphill battle.
Last week, a brief announcement from President Barack Obama’s team that public White House tours would end on March 9th because of sequester cuts seemed like a footnote.
Today, the Obama administration has taken a week of criticism from all types of sources, including right-wing pundits, the Washington Post editorial board, Donald Trump, and a group of Iowa sixth graders.
In fact, it may have been the students at St. Paul’s Lutheran School from Waverly, Iowa, who ignited the controversy, when they went on Facebook and said, “The White House is our house. Please let us visit.”
The students and adults at the school have launched a website and a viral video at http://thewhitehouseisourhouse.com/ to take their campaign to America.
The president and his spokesman, Jay Carney, have addressed the issue, but their own conflicting responses have fed the 24-hour news cycle on TV and online.
As part of the White House’s counteroffensive against tour supporters, a senior aide, Dan Pfeiffer, held up a column from the Post’s Ezra Klein on Wednesday that supported the tour cuts, and called the publicity a “misplaced obsession.”
A day later, Klein’s own newspaper sided with Trump, John Boehner and the Iowa sixth graders.
The Post’s editorial board said that the president’s move was a “ham-handed tactic” and “the pushback that the Obama administration has encountered is a proper comeuppance.”
On the same day, President Obama was back tracking in an interview with ABC News.
“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,” President Obama told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
Then the president waded into more controversial waters, when he told Stephanopoulos that the Secret Service was behind the tour cuts, and not the White House.
“I have to say this was not a decision that went up to the White House,” Obama told Stephanopoulos. “But what the Secret Service explained to us was that they’re going to have to furlough some folks.”
The White House then issued a clarifying statement after the interview, saying that while President Obama wasn’t personally informed about the cuts, the White House staff made the decision.
Congress is not amused by the controversy, since it didn’t cancel its Capitol tours for constituents and it has to contact people who requested White House tours through the offices of Congress members.
One House member, Louis Gohmert, is proposing legislation to ban President Obama from playing golf until the tours are resumed.
Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt framed the arguments from Obama’s critics in an onlne editorial.
“And as long as the kids are being turned away from the White House, the president will find his own activities under a microscope. Every trip, every party, every event will be measured in worth against the sorrow of little Timmy and Sally who didn’t get to hear dad ask at the end of the tour if they’d like to live in the White House someday,” he said.
Another critic is the student newspaper of the University of Connecticut, which isn’t exactly a hot bed for Obama opponents.
“The percentage of savings is so low that it is simply not worth the sacrifice to our democratic institutions. What a shame,” said the paper’s student editorial board.
And even the First Lady, Michelle Obama, got some feedback on Twitter when she appeared on the messaging service to discuss her health initiative.
“Will Beyonce get a White House tour?” asked one Twitter member.
Other accounts in the media include a 70-year-old grandmother who saw her tour cancelled, and a group of young students from Missouri who started planning their tour in August.
One story from Ohio featured a defense-sector worker who found out that his tour was cancelled, and he was also facing a work furlough.
The same story featured a mother who had to tell her eight-year-old girl, who is obsessed with presidents, that her tour was cancelled.
“But Mom, that’s the house of all the presidents – it’s not just his house,” the girl said.
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