ABC's Jon Karl Skeptically Questions Obama's Ending of White House Tours
World News's Jonathan Karl on Wednesday turned a uniquely skeptical eye on Barack Obama's decision to end White House tours in the wake of sequester. Highlighting the President's claim that the decision was a financial necessity, he chided, "The President is having dinner tonight with Republicans at a restaurant just six blocks from here. He took a 20-car motorcade and, of course, lots of Secret Service agents." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Talking to anchor Diane Sawyer, Karl joked, "Maybe next time, Diane, [Obama] can save a little money by just ordering in." Karl questioned the White House's claim that $84 million in cuts, out of a $1.6 billion budget for the Secret Service, caused the end of the tours. The journalist did the math: "Tours are open 20 hours a week and use 30 uniformed Secret Service officers at about $30 an hour. Total saved? Approximately $18,000 a week."
The other networks offered some skepticism about the White House tours, but with much less detail. On the March 6 Today, Natalie Morales asserted in a news brief: "The tours are being canceled until further notice because of budget cuts. The administration says it is saving on overtime, but Republican critics call it a publicity stunt."
On the March 5 Nightly News, Brian Williams also allowed a few seconds. He noted that "Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert called them out on it and immediately counter-proposed an amendment which would ban funding to transport the president to the golf course until public tours of the White House resume."
CBS This Morning briefly covered the story on Thursday, explaining the bare details.
A transcript of the March 6 World News segment is below:
DIANE SAWYER: And elsewhere in Washington, the president is going to be dining out tonight. And what's unusual, his dinner guests are Republicans. They will be talking about the budget cuts, after the White House says they're forced to shut down White House tours. Little kids are disappointed, and people have been e-mailing us today, saying, really? Is that the only way to save money? ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl gets answers about the place called "the people's home."
JONATHAN KARL: For tourists visiting the nation's capitol today, the decision to close the white hous
e has hit with a thud. (on-camera) What do you guys make of this decision for the White House to say that they’re going to cut White House tours?
MAN IN COWBOY HAT: How frank do you want us to be?
KARL: Be as frank as you want to be.
MAN IN COWBOY HAT: Basically, it’s just [bleep].
KARL: These folks came from Minnesota.
LITTLE GIRLS: Open the White House!
KARL: We talked via Skype to a 6th grade class from Waverly, Iowa, just told their White House tour next week has been canceled. (on-camera) How big a deal is it to be able to go to the White House?
KAREN THALACKER: It's very important. They'll remember it for the rest of their lives. And unfortunately, they might remember that this was a sign of their government if they couldn’t get to go.
KARL: Now they've launched a Facebook campaign to get the White House reopened. The message--
KIDS: The White House is our house! Please let us visit!
KARL: Republicans accuse the White House of playing politics. But the White House says it is cancelling the tours because sequester spending cuts have sliced $84 million out of the Secret Service's $1.6 billion budget. And they are the ones who secure the tours. They wouldn't say how much this saves, so we did some math. Tours are open 20 hours a week and use 30 uniformed Secret Service officers at about $30 an hour. Total saved? Approximately $18,000 a week. Cuts or no cuts, here in the Capitol building, tours continue. While we were there, we ran into the speaker of the house. (To Boehner) The President says he has to cancel the tours because of the budget cuts.
JOHN BOEHNER: We're open. And Americans are welcome.
KARL: The President is having dinner tonight with Republicans at a restaurant just six blocks from here. He took a 20-car motorcade and, of course, lots of Secret Service agents. Maybe next time, Diane, he can save a little money by just ordering in.