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Landing a coveted White House tour helps to know a congressman

Monday, May 6, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress are seeing to it that lobbying groups, donors, friends and family still can visit the White House even though the public generally cannot.

Once available to anyone with the patience to stand in line, White House tours were halted Sept. 11 for security reasons and are available now to school groups or by special arrangement.

Lawmakers have been busy making such arrangements, often playing tour guide personally, according to an Associated Press review of White House visitation lists for lawmakers and AP interviews.

Rice farmers, a congressman's cousins and even a raffle winner have seen the White House this way.

Marion Davis, a North Carolina businessman who visited Washington with the National Telephone Cooperative Association to lobby Congress for an industry tax break, got Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., to escort him and five colleagues on an hourlong White House tour last month.

"The Secret Service people were very nice," said Davis, a friend of McIntyre. "They took a great deal of time with us explaining the whole layout of Washington, D.C. We could look out the window and see the Washington Monument."

Members of Congress used to receive 10 tour passes a week for their constituents, enabling visitors to skip the long public lines outside the White House.

The terrorist attacks put an end to that.

By special arrangement

Now, aside from school groups and guests of White House workers, the only tourists who can visit the president's home are those escorted to the front gate by a member of Congress or a lawmaker's spouse or staff member.

The lawmaker must know the guest and can only arrange tours for groups of six or fewer. The visitors have security checks done ahead of time.

When the White House reopened to the more limited tours in March, lawmakers initially were told they had to take any guests through themselves. Lawmakers complained that was too burdensome, White House spokeswoman Anne Womack said.

McIntyre said Davis' tour request was the first he has gotten since the White House reopened.

"I felt that was important to do," he said. "The White House does belong to the people and it's a special privilege to be able to share that with the people we represent back home."

At least 68 lawmakers, almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, have led White House tours themselves or arranged tours in recent weeks.

Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., took a few rice farmers from his district, some cousins and new staffers on tours last month.

He tries to lead a tour every two weeks, choosing visitors on a "first-come, first-served" basis, spokesman Yier Shi said.

California Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican, took his wife's relatives on a tour and also played host to the winner of a charity raffle that raised money for a local school.

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