This White House Tour Brought To You By: Donald Trump
(CNN) — Real estate titan Donald Trump said he’ll cover the costs to keep the White House tours open for rest of the fiscal year, an idea proposed online last week by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The White House announced Tuesday it was suspending the tours through September 30 as a consequence of the forced spending cuts-known in Washington as the sequester–that began taking effect March 1.
The move quickly sparked controversy, with some Republicans arguing the Obama administration was using the canceled tours as a political ploy to draw up negative reaction from the American public over the cuts.
Gingrich floated an alternative idea last week. On Twitter the former presidential candidate volunteered his fellow Republican to pick up the tab.
“Donald trump should offer to pay for the white house tours. He can afford it and it would show who cares more for American students,” he wrote, referring to the hoards of kids who venture to Washington for spring break and summer vacation.
Asked Monday about the tweet on “Fox and Friends,” Trump said in a phone interview that he hadn’t heard anything about the suggestion.
“I think it’s so nice of Newt to suggest that,” the media mogul said, adding that Gingrich and his wife are members of his club in Washington. “But it sounds reasonable to me.
After agreeing to the pitch, he asked how much it would cost.
The U.S. Secret Service told CNN Thursday that the plan will help the agency save $74,000 per week – or $2 million in the next seven months. That’s how much it costs to pay 37 uniformed officers $50 an hour for 40 hours a week to secure the tour’s route through the East Wing.
But that’s just a fraction of the $84 million the Secret Service needs to cut from its $1.6 billion budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The officers normally assigned to the tours will be reassigned to other duties at the White House.
“The Secret Service, like other agencies of government is affected by the sequester,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during his Thursday press briefing. “And the Secret Service presented options that ranged from canceling tours to potential furloughs and cuts in overtime. And in order to allow the Secret Service to best fulfill its core mission, the White House made the decision that we would unfortunately have to temporarily suspend these tours.”
Asked if the White House could accept private donations to fund the tours, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday “I don’t know if it’s technically possible.”
“My guess is that it’s not,” he said in the daily briefing. “The reason for that is that the sequester mandates across the board, non-strategic, indiscriminate, cuts to the budget. It allows very little, if any, flexibility.”
While the White House has not commented on Trump’s specific offer, it would also be highly unusual for the Obama administration to accept private contributions for a Secret Service activity.
Trump on Monday said the public White House tours of the East Wing have been a “simple” and “open” tradition for years.
“It’s certainly not a lot of money. The big thing is that the country is going to lose a trillion dollars this year,” he said. “Closing the White House tours is not exactly the biggest thing on the agenda.”