White House may reopen for school tours. Is Obama feeling sequester heat?

The announcement that the White House tours were among the first to be felled by sequester cuts fired up critics and saddened D.C.-bound school kids. Now, President Obama wants to make it right.

Karen Thalacker/St. Paul's Lutheran School/AP
Sixth-grade students at St. Paul's Lutheran School in Waverly, Iowa, pose for a photo on March 6. The class had their upcoming visit canceled as the White House suspended all tours under across-the-board sequester spending cuts. The disappointed class posted a video on Facebook asking for the tour to be reinstated.

President Obama may be backtracking on ending White House tours because of “sequester” budget cuts. He’s talking about restarting some executive mansion visits for some deserving groups, in any case.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News aired on Wednesday, Mr. Obama said that the decision to cancel the popular tours was made by the Secret Service.

“This was not a decision that went up to the White House,” he said.

Now he’s gone back to Secret Service officials and asked whether they might rethink their decision. Obama said that, in particular, he’d like to make sure tour groups that perhaps raised money to visit D.C. via such things as bake sales don’t end up standing outside the White House gates in a disappointed scrum.

“Can we make sure that kids potentially can ... still come to tour?” Obama asked rhetorically.

Hmm. Is the administration feeling the heat from criticism that it’s overblown the impact of sequester cuts? After all, lots of critics hit the White House tour closures as a bit over the top.

Well, we’ve got a few points to make that we think might help explain this matter. To start with, we’ll answer Obama’s question: Yes, you can make sure deserving school groups still get in. You’re the president. It’s your house.

It’s true that the sequester is a blunt instrument and the Secret Service probably does have to cut agent activities somewhere. But we’re pretty sure they’ll move their numbers around if the Big Boss asks.

Second, Obama should not have been surprised by the tour closures. It’s possible that he didn’t know about them in advance, as he implied to Mr. Stephanopoulos – missed connections, sloth, and ineptitude explain many generic Washington snafus. But the president should have been informed about something some so symbolic. If he wasn’t, we’ll bet that yelling was involved when he found out.

And finally, Obama would not be talking about this as he is unless he and his officials knew it was a mistake. In the face of the sequester, his approval ratings are sliding. For instance, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll has his approval rating at only 50 percent, down from 55 percent in mid-January.

In the same survey, only 44 percent of respondents said they approve of the way the president is handling the economy. Obama spent a lot of time prior to the sequester warning the public about fiscal pain to come; most voters have yet to feel it, and that seems to be taking a toll on the president’s numbers.

One thing is certain: Donald Trump won’t be sponsoring any tour revival. On Monday, he offered to pay to reopen the White House to visitors, but on Tuesday, administration adviser Dan Pfeiffer said, no thanks.

“The Donald Trump option is not an option; what we have to do is deal with the sequester,” Mr. Pfeiffer said Tuesday on CNN.

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