Obama blames his guards for closing White House tours

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama is blaming the U.S. Secret Service for the politically damaging decision to close the popular White House tours, and also suggested he would restart the tours.

“You know, I have to say this was not — a decision that went up to the White House,” he claimed in an interview broadcast Wednesday by ABC News.

“What the Secret Service explained to us was that they’re gonna have to furlough some folks,” he insisted to ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos, who worked as top aide to the nation’s previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton.

His claim clashes with a March 7 statement by his press secretary, Jay Carney, who declared that “the White House made the decision that we would, unfortunately, have to temporarily suspend these tours.”

Obama is now trying to backtrack.

“Well, what I’m asking them is are there ways, for example, for us to accommodate school groups — you know, who may have traveled here with some bake sales,” he said. “Can we make sure that — kids, potentially, can — can still come to tour?”

Under the terms of the long-scheduled 2011 sequester, which was suggested by Obama, the federal government is cutting 1 percent of spending from the 2013 budget of $3.8 trillion, during the period from March to October.

In the weeks up to March 1, Obama and his aides pushed to win public backing for their demand that the sequester to be canceled and replaced by tax hikes. They forecast immediate and major economic pain and inconvenience for the public. The Department of Homeland Security released roughly 2,000 illegal-immigrant prisoners, and the Secret Service — which guards the White House — announced the closure of the White House tours.

The tour cancellation saved roughly $74,000 a week, or roughly one-millionth of the government’s weekly spending.

The Secret Service is part of the administration, and reports to President Obama. On March 4, Obama appointed a new chief to run the Secret Service.

The White House’s response failed to move public opinion or GOP votes, and even prompted a spate of skeptical articles from the establishment press.

The strategy also may have cost Obama much public support.

A series of recent polls show the public’s approval of Obama’s policies has lurched downwards. For example, a poll released March 13 by the Washington Post shows that only 44 percent of Americans support his economic policies.

That sour attitude has also effected Obama’s other top priorities. For example, only 45 percent of Americans now trust Obama “to do a better job handling immigration issues.” The poll also showed that 39 percent trust the GOP on immigration, and 9 percent trust neither Obama nor the GOP leadership.

Since his sequester strategy has failed, Obama has shifted his tactics to show him working with the GOP.

However, he has coupled that outreach with campaign-style criticism of the GOP’s economic plan, which has been developed by House budget chief Rep. Paul Ryan.

“If you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare; you have to slash deeply — into programs like Medicaid; you’ve essentially got to either tax middle-class families a lot higher than you currently are; or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised,” he claimed in the ABC interview.

Many GOP leaders and supporters say that Obama’s mix of threats, diplomacy, walk-backs and rhetoric is intended to help him win a House majority in 2014, not to negotiate a long-term budget deal.

Obama likely bolstered that view in his ABC speech, partly because he repeatedly insisted that the nation’s high $16.7 trillion debt — up from $11 trillion in late 2008 — is not a major problem.

“We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next ten years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place,” he claimed in the ABC interview, during which he said that also that he would not seek to balance the budget anytime during the next decade.

Follow Neil on Twitter