Published March 14, 2013
President Obama insisted Wednesday that the Secret Service was behind the controversial suspension of White House tours, a claim that was met with vocal skepticism during a closed-door meeting with Republicans.
The president, while leaving open the option of resuming tours for school children, explained to House Republicans during a meeting on Capitol Hill that "the Secret Service made the decision," Fox News has learned.
The claim, similar to one he made in an interview broadcast Wednesday morning, was met with a round of "ahaaaaas" by those in the room.
Obama, in response, told the lawmakers: "Hold on guys, we just talked about respect."
The president and his aides appeared to be giving slightly different accounts of who was behind the decision. The Secret Service has already acknowledged that it needed to pull staff from the White House tours, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has clarified that it was the White House, then, that made the final decision to suspend the tours.
Carney tried to address the discrepancy again at Wednesday's press briefing. He said the Secret Service made the decision to withdraw personnel, and the White House in turn canceled the tours.
Carney also confirmed that the president has asked if there's a way to allow school groups into the White House, but he said there hasn't been a move to reverse the tour-closing decision entirely.
The decision, announced this month, was decried by Republican lawmakers as over the top and unnecessary. School groups and others who had planned to visit the White House got disappointing news when the tours ceased last Saturday -- a group of sixth-graders in Iowa even took to Facebook to vent their frustrations in a widely viewed Web video.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., even announced late Wednesday he was introducing an amendment to the fiscal bill pending in Senate that would transfer $2.5 million from the Transportation Security Administration to the Secret Service to bring back the tours for the rest of the fiscal year. The TSA, Moran noted, has just spent $50 million on uniform-related expenses.
“The same taxpayers who are funding TSA officers’ new uniforms are being denied the opportunity to tour the White House – the people’s house," Moran said.
Obama, speaking with ABC News, said he's now talking with the Secret Service about restoring some visits.
"What I'm asking them, for example, are there ways for us to accommodate school groups that may have traveled here" during the approaching spring break, he said.
Obama also said the question of resuming White House tours may hinge on "how deeply they have to furlough their staff."
Last week, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan explained that overtime costs factored into the decision to shut down the White House tours. By taking the 30 officers involved in the tours and assigning them to high-priority security posts, officers normally on those duties can log fewer hours -- in turn saving the Secret Service money.
"It reduces overtime costs overall for us," Donovan said.
But Republicans, while stressing that the Capitol building remains open to visitors, decried the move as unnecessary and part of an attempt to make the sequester seem even worse.
Some suggested the first family could save the money by cutting back their own expenses. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, tried to push an amendment that would prohibit federal funds from being spent on Obama's golf trips until public tours of the White House resumed.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.