Return to normalcy does not include tours at White House

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Tuesday he regretted that the White House is shutting the door to the public during the holiday season, halting a tradition that has delighted generations of Americans. The threat of new terrorist attacks required it, he said.

Bush has told Americans to resume their normal lives, but city officials complained that the latest shutdown sent another message.

The Capitol is closed to public tours, and for the first time, the lighting of the national Christmas tree just outside the White House gates will be a ticket-only event. Hotel occupancy is about half of what it normally is, the mayor's office said.

''The cumulative effect is to send a megaphone message: Don't come to the nation's capital,'' said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's delegate to the House of Representatives, who discussed the matter with White House officials on Tuesday, but did not expect a reversal. ''Americans don't believe what politicians say, they believe what politicians do.''

Bush acknowledged that holiday tours of the White House are favorites for many Americans.

But ''evil knows no holiday; evil doesn't welcome Thanksgiving or Christmas season,'' he said. ''In these extraordinary times we're taking extraordinary measures,'' he said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Secret Service recommended that the annual holiday tours be scrapped, and administration staff accepted the suggestion.

''The White House is a target of terrorist activities, of course,'' Fleischer said. He didn't elaborate, and the Secret Service wouldn't say specifically what prompted its recommendation.

In past years, scores of groups asked the White House for walk-throughs after the Christmastime decorations went up. Those seeking such tours were told they will not take place this year, said White House spokeswoman Anne Womack. The daily tours that once drew some 3,000 people a day also remain suspended indefinitely.

A few people will get a glimpse of the White House in holiday trim during open houses: Members of Congress and their families, White House staff members, and certain members of the military and law enforcement organizations.

First lady Laura Bush designated this year's theme ''home for the holidays'' -- a motif she said carried extra significance in a year when many Americans are seeking the solace of home following the terrorist attacks.

The attacks, however, will keep would-be visitors from seeing tiny replicas of 18 presidential family homes, from George Washington's Mount Vernon to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Hyde Park, that are on display throughout the White House.

Bush also restricted public access to the White House before the attacks, when he limited invitations to the Fourth of July fireworks-watching party. In past years, 11,000 or more attended; Bush restricted attendees to groundskeepers, employees of the residence, political appointees and their families. Then, the administration cited fears of wear and tear on the White House grounds.

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