Mr. GRAMS. Mr. President, I don't know how or why it developed, but one trait most humans share is a deep interest in chronicling the passage of time. And so we attach a special significance to the observance of anniversaries--those anniversaries marking celebration and achievement, and those marking solemn events of remembrance and passage.
On May 20, 3 weeks from today, we'll have an opportunity to observe both. We'll be celebrating the 88th birthday of actor Jimmy Stewart, the 64th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic, the patenting of the fountain pen in 1830, and Levis' riveted-pocket blue jeans in 1873.
But on May 20, we'll also be observing a much more troubling event, because unless the Government takes action in the next 3 weeks to stop it, we'll be marking the 1-year anniversary of the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.
Mr. President, we have an opportunity--an obligation--to prevent this anniversary from ever happening.
The city has certainly grown up around it, but Pennsylvania Avenue has changed surprisingly little since 1791, when George Washington gave his approval to Pierre L'Enfant's innovative city plan. They envisioned the avenue as a bold, ceremonial stretch of boulevard physically linking the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House, and symbolically linking the legislative and executive branches of government.
By the early 1800's, Pennsylvania Avenue had become a busy thoroughfare. The people of Washington went about their daily business in the shadow of the White House, which for much of the 19th century, wasn't set off from the street by as much as a fence. Believe it or not, folks used to pull their carriages up to the front door of the President's house to ask for directions.
By 1995, carriages had been replaced by station wagons and tour buses, and Pennsylvania Avenue--America's main street--had grown up. Over 80 feet wide, the modern, six-lane boulevard was being used by more than 26,000 vehicles every day. Families on vacation would travel down Pennsylvania Avenue past the White House on the same route their ancestors might have taken, and it gave a lot of people goosebumps. When ordinary citizens could drive by the President's home or walk by his front gate, well, that said something important to them about living in a country where freedom is valued above all else.
As the home to every President since John Adams, the White House had become one of Pennsylvania Avenue's crown jewels, a primary destination of visitors to the Nation's Capital. The People's House was hosting 1 1/2 million tourists annually. Given its prominent location on Pennsylvania Avenue and its proximity to the people, the White House was a powerful symbol of freedom, openness, and an individual's access to their Government.
That is, until May 20 of last year, when the Treasury Department shut down two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue. For the first time in its 195-year history, all traffic in front of the White House came to a halt.
The President ordered the avenue closed to vehicles in the wake of the tragic Oklahoma City bombing a month earlier, citing possible security risks from trucks carrying terrorist bombs. At the time, the President said the decision wouldn't change very much except the traffic patterns in Washington--but it has. By barricading a symbol of democracy and access which dates back to nearly the birth of this Nation, we've surrendered to fear. Without striking a single match in the vicinity of Washington, the terrorists have won.
Have you been to the White House lately, Mr. President? You'll see what fear looks like. With all the guards, the guns, the cement barriers, the police cruisers, Pennsylvania Avenue now looks like what some are calling a war zone. Or a bunker. This is not the White House of leaders like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, who defined freedom's essence and took deep pride in being its stewards.
In fact, I don't know whose White House this is anymore. But I do know that it no longer seems to belong to the people.
Mr. President, I hope my colleagues had an opportunity to read the editorials on the subject of Pennsylvania Avenue published in the Washington Post over the last several months. The newspaper has focused on fear, and what happens when that fear is allowed to take hold and fester until it dictates and clouds the decisions made every day here in Washington.
`This is a concession to terrorism that should not be made permanent,' wrote the Post last December. `Two world wars did not close Pennsylvania Avenue. Neither did the Civil War or past attempts on Presidents' lives, as the White House itself has noted. The avenue stayed open despite a British invasion, and despite street riots in the 1960's. But now, because of the devastation in Oklahoma City, the history of Pennsylvania Avenue may be erased by bulldozers.'
Mr. President, it would be a second tragedy if a capital city steeped in fear is among the lasting legacies of the Oklahoma City bombing. That is not how we should honor the explosion's innocent victims.
In their rush to close Pennsylvania Avenue down, officials apparently gave little thought to the long-term consequences of their action. After all, Pennsylvania Avenue is far more than just a decorative patch of roadway, reserved for parades and official functions. It's a living, vital spoke of the city. For almost 200 years, Washington's workers and families have lived along Pennsylvania Avenue, shopped along it, dined along it, done their shopping at its corner markets, traveled on it to and from the office. The knee-jerk closing of such a major artery has had a devastating cost for the District of Columbia and its businesses, its commuters, its tourists, its residents.
With the avenue closed for two blocks, and several surrounding streets blocked off as well, the people who live, work, and visit here and give life to this city are feeling choked off from it.
Nearby businesses are no longer as accessible to employees and clients, now that daily traffic hassles tie up the downtown area. City officials are worried that commercial development will eventually suffer: with the city's east and west sides artificially separated, potential tenants may decide to skip the headaches of dealing with the
closed avenue and opt to locate outside Washington.
A great deal of parking space has been eliminated, too. Add up the lost parking revenue, the cost of changing street signs and signals, higher Metrobus subsidies, and police overtime, and just 6 weeks into the closing, the District estimated the cost of closing Pennsylvania Avenue had already reached nearly $750,000. I'm afraid the cost after an entire year will be staggering.
And that doesn't begin to take into account the other indirect costs of the closing. Tour bus operators can no longer drive their customers--many of whom are strapped for time, or unable to walk the extra three or four blocks--past the White House.
What about the public transportation system? In order to provide the same services it offered before the Pennsylvania Avenue shutdown, transit officials have estimated they'll need to spend up to $200,000 more every year by adding new buses and drivers.
And the increased bus traffic on streets not meant to bear such a heavy load is threatening historic buildings like Decatur House on H Street and St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square. Both have survived more than 175 years of political turbulence, but neither was built to endure the rumbling they've been subjected to over the last 12 months. Buses now pass by at a rate of more than 1,000 trips a day--experts are afraid the traffic will reduce the structures to rubble.
What's most troubling about all of this is the fact that the Federal Government carried out the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue without any consultation with the District, without any direct public input from the people their decision would most disrupt.
Mr. President, the people of this city who depend on open access to Pennsylvania Avenue say they've accepted the present closure, but they're not going along with the idea that the avenue must be blockaded forever. That case has simply not been made, they say. And I agree.
I was pleased to learn that the National Park Service recently scrapped what they called their interim beautification plan for the 1,600-foot strip of the avenue between Lafayette Park and the White House. The plan involved replacing large sections of the asphalt with grass, but architects called it off when they realized that something as drastic as digging up the asphalt would be too hard to change in the future, once a final plan of action is decided upon.
The Park Service is still going ahead with plans to bring in 115 concrete barriers disguised as planters to ring the closed-off avenue. Most of these new roadblocks are almost 3 feet high; the largest is 7 by 13 feet and weighs 36 tons. `It will really dress the area up,' said a Park Service official. Mr. President, I don't believe Martha Stewart herself could dress up a 36-ton, concrete traffic barricade.
And the cost of these new measures? About half a million dollars--a great deal of taxpayers' money, especially considering it's only supposed to be temporary.
Last December, 14 top architects, planners, and sculptors met to brainstorm about the future of Pennsylvania Avenue. They didn't publicly announce any final decisions--that won't happen until later this year. But they are expected to release five proposals later this month on how to proceed. Most of the plans are said to center around the idea of keeping the avenue closed and turning the area surrounding the White House into some sort of President's park, something they say could become a shrine of democracy. But a pretty name can't disguise a terrible idea.
Mr. President, Washington doesn't need another ceremonial park, especially around the White House. Kings live in park enclaves, as they say, while Presidents live along streets. Washington doesn't need another shrine to democracy, either. This city itself is a shrine to democracy. I would suggest that returning Pennsylvania Avenue to the way it was before May 20, 1995, would be the greatest tribute to democracy we could offer.
We all need to stop, catch our breath, and put aside the fear. If we don't, where will it stop? One year after Oklahoma City, the Government has already increased its national security force by more than 800 guards, at a cost to the taxpayers of $32 million.
New security equipment is being installed in Federal buildings to the tune of $77 million, and another $174 million is slated to be spent on additional security measures over the next 20 months.
Then what? There are 8,100 Federal buildings in the United States--do we turn each and every one of them into a fortress? Already, the drastic security measures undertaken on Pennsylvania Avenue have set a precedent and have been mirrored on Capitol Hill. Access to streets on the Senate side of the Capitol have been shut off and parking has been eliminated or restricted in many places. Security at the Capitol itself has been tightened dramatically.
How much of Washington, DC, are we going to have to rope off before the public begins thinking we simply don't want them here? As tragic as it sounds, that's the message we're sending.
Mr. President, all Americans are deeply concerned about the safety of their President. The security measures used to protect him must be well reasoned, appropriate, and thorough. I don't question the desire to afford him every ounce of security available, but I do question whether we can satisfy that desire without sacrificing the people's freedom.
The sad truth is that we can't protect the President--or any Federal worker, for that matter--by sealing them off from the world. A determined terrorist will not be stopped. But there will always be risks in a free and open society.
I received a letter from a California man who wanted to share his thoughts as an occasional visitor to this city. `I am in Washington about 10 times a year,' he wrote, `and I feel an oppression there that I feel in no other city, either in the United States or abroad. I really feel the oppression around the White House.' He wrote that any black or white minivan parked in the vicinity will have a policeman in it. That's in addition to the policemen with dogs, and the vast number on foot and in Secret Service cars in the area, all behind those ugly, concrete barriers. `Closing off Pennsylvania Avenue seems to be going a bit overboard,' he concluded.
In the year since the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, the calls for its reopening have grown louder. There's a deep perception among many Americans that the closing was an emotional reaction--a judgment rendered too quickly, and initiated out of fear.
It's time for President Clinton to reconsider a decision made amidst such emotion, and replace it with one of reasoned courage.
And so I am sending today a letter to the President requesting the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue no later than May 17, 1996. I ask unanimous consent that a copy of my letter be printed in the Record.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See exhibit 1.)
Mr. GRAMS. Mr. President, on behalf of the American people who aren't here to stand up for themselves, I ask my colleagues to stand with me in taking back Pennsylvania Avenue from the fear to which it has been surrendered. It's time to halt these efforts to close off the people's house, on America's main street, from the people themselves. We don't need to wait for the reports and recommendations of another government commission to know that this is wrong.
By ordering the immediate reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Clinton has the power to return the avenue to the people. He has the power to undo a costly mistake. He has the power to ensure that the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue does not mark its first anniversary.
We must not allow fear to claim the victory. Dismantle the barricades, Mr. President, and may the souls of the patriots who founded this Nation in freedom's name take pity on us if we don't.
Washington, DC, April 29, 1996.
Hon. Bill Clinton,
The White House,
Dear Mr. President: As you are no doubt aware, May 20, 1996 will mark the passage of one year since the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. To eliminate the need for observing this somber anniversary, I am writing to respectfully request the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue by a date no later than May 17, 1996.
Within the history of Pennsylvania Avenue can be traced the history of this great nation. In 1791, President George Washington commissioned Pierre Charles L'Enfant to draft a blueprint for America's new capital city. They envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a ceremonial boulevard physically linking the U.S. Capitol and the White House, and symbolically linking the Legislative and Executive branches of government. As an integral element of the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania Avenue stood for 195 years as a vital, working, unbroken roadway, elevating it into a place of national importance as `America's Main Street.'
As the home to every president since John Adams, the White House has become one of Pennsylvania Avenue's `crown jewels' and a primary destination of visitors to the Nation's Capital; today, `the People's House' is host to 1.5 million tourists annually. Given its prominent location on Pennsylvania Avenue and its proximity to the People, the White House has become a powerful symbol of freedom, openness, and an individual's access to their government.
And so you can imagine the disappointment of many when your order of May 20, 1995 closed Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic for two blocks in front of the White House. By impeding access and imposing hardships upon tourists, residents of the District, commuters, and local business owners and their customers, the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue has drastically altered L'Enfant's historic city plan, replacing the openness of the area surrounding the White House with barricades, additional security checkpoints, and an atmosphere of fear and distrust.
The closure has come with not only an emotional cost, but a financial cost as well--both to the taxpayers, who have been asked to bear the burden of funding new security measures along Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, and for those who are dependent upon access to the avenue for their livelihood.
I acknowledge that the security of the President of the United States is paramount and a matter not to be taken lightly, but I ask you to recognize that the need to ensure the president's safety must be balanced with the expectation of freedom inherent in a democracy. I believe the present situation is tilted far to heavily toward security at freedom's expense.
In the year since the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, the calls for its reopening have grown louder. There is a deep perception among many Americans that the closing was an emotional reaction--a decision rendered too quickly, initiated out of fear fueled by the terrible disaster in Oklahoma City. I ask you to reconsider a decision made amidst such emotion, and replace it with one of reasoned courage.
By ordering the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue by May 17, 1996, you have the power to undo a costly mistake, return the avenue to the people, and guarantee that its closure will not mark its first anniversary.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN addressed the Chair.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from California.
Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I thank the Chair.
Mr. President, I ask to speak in morning business for such time as I may consume.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.