Planning a trip to see the White House? Official tours are off, as of Saturday, as Washington’s biggest time of the year for tourism sets in.
“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. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours,” the White House said in a statement.
For now, the Easter Egg Roll for April 1 is still on. The annual event is subject to a ticket lottery, with an expected attendance of 35,000 people.
The Roll was started by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878 and the tradition has gone on since, with the exception of some interruptions due to World War I and World War II.
White House tours date back to the time of President Thomas Jefferson in 1805. Since then, the White House had remained open to visitors, except for times of war and in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
One of the most famous White House tour moments was in 1962, when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy took 80 million television viewers inside the building for an exclusive tour. Kennedy was extensively involved in renovating the White House, which she first saw on an Easter visit as a child.
Tours were at 1.25 million annual visitors during the Clinton administration. Currently, the White House Visitor Center accommodates more than 600,000 people, after fewer tickets were made available in the past decade.
More recently, President Obama, the current first lady, Michelle Obama, and the first dog, Bo, have surprised visitors inside the building.
In recent years, tour tickets had to be obtained through a member of Congress, often months in advance. The White House will not honor any of these tickets after today.
The president’s critics in Congress were quick to comment on the closings—and to remind voters that Capitol tours would go on as scheduled.
House Speaker John Boehner said that he was upset the move was forcing fellow Congress members to give the bad news about the White House tours to constituents.
“It’s just silly. I want to know who is being laid off at the White House. The Capitol is open for tours. We’ve been planning for this for months,” he told CNBC.
The move does pose an embarrassment to the administration, which had promised to open up the building to more people.
On the White House’s official history web page, a statement is still intact from Michelle Obama about those goals.
“It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome. And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can,” the statement says.
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