The first visitors to see the White House since the across-the-board spending cuts forced the Secret Service to suspend tours got a big surprise Tuesday: a greeting from the residents!
First lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, and even first dogs Bo and Sunny Obama met with the first new batch of tourists as they made their way through the Blue Room.
The first lady tweeted her excitement, signing the tweet “-mo” a indication she sent the message, rather than a staff member.
President Obama joined for a while as well, smiling and shaking hands with those who made their way through the “People’s House.”
White House tours were shut down shortly after the sequestration budget cuts went into effect March 1. Though the cuts were not reversed, the Secret Service has been able to rework its budget in order to reopen tour access on a “limited basis.”
“Last year’s sequestration came midway through the fiscal year, and we were unable to adjust or re-allocate remaining funding to continue tours while still ensuring enough funding remained to meet all operational needs and avoid furloughing our employees,” Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said in a statement when announcing that tours would resume. “In light of the new fiscal year, the Secret Service is confident that through the continuing resolution tours can operate at a reduced level while still meeting operational requirements. “
Republicans repeatedly criticized the White House after the tours were suspended in March, with House Speaker John Boehner saying it was “just silly.” The issue became a regular talking point on right-wing media. Secret Service officials told NBC News at the time that the decision was made to help reduce overtime costs and potential furloughs.
The newly-resumed tour schedule will open parts of the White House to tourists an average of three days a week, instead of the usual five, according to the Secret Service. The gardens and grounds opened to visitors last week, with school children from the Washington, D.C., area coming to the White House to help Michelle Obama and Sesame Street favorites Elmo and Rosita harvest the White House Garden.
The White House boasts that nearly 3 million visitors have come to the White House since the president and first lady surprised guests by dropping in on public tours since Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.