Mr. GRAMS submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Governmental Affairs:
SECTION 1. FINDINGS.
The Senate makes the following findings:
(1) In 1791, President George Washington commissioned Pierre Charles L'Enfant to draft a blueprint for America's capital city; they envisioned Pennsylvania Avenue as a bold, ceremonial boulevard physically linking the U.S. Capitol building and the White House, and symbolically the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
(2) 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'.
(3) 1600 Pennsylvania, the White House, has become America's most recognized address and a primary destination of visitors to the Nation's Capital; `the People's House' is host to 5,000 tourist daily, and 15,000,000 annually.
(4) As home to the President, and 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.
(5) On May 20, 1995, citing possible security risks from vehicles transporting terrorist bombs, President Clinton ordered the Treasury Department and the Secret Service to close Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic for two blocks in front of the White House.
(6) By impeding access and imposing undue hardships upon tourists, residents of the District, commuters, and local business owners and their customers, the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, undertaken without the counsel of the government of the District of Columbia, has replaced the former openness of the area surrounding the White House with barricades, additional security checkpoints, and an atmosphere of fear and distrust.
(7) In the year following the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue, the taxpayers have borne a tremendous burden for additional security measures along the Avenue near the White House.
(8) While the security of the President is of grave concern and is not to be taken lightly, the need to assure the President's safety must be balanced with the expectation of freedom inherent in a democracy; the present situation is tilted far too heavily toward security at freedom's expense.
SEC. 2 SENSE OF THE SENATE.
It is the sense of the Senate that the President should order the immediate, permanent reopening to vehicular traffic of Pennsylvania in front of the White House, restoring the Avenue to its original state and returning it to the People.
Mr. GRAMS. Mr. President, in just 6 days, the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House will mark its 1-year anniversary.
I rise today to speak for the 15 million tourists who visit the Nation's Capital each year, the local businessmen and women whose livelihoods depend upon open access, the government of the District of Columbia, the commuters who rely on our roads, and the people who call Washington, DC, home. On their behalf, I am submitting a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that Pennsylvania Avenue be reopened to traffic and returned to its historic use. The May 20th closing is one anniversary we should not have to commemorate.
This resolution has the support of many with strong ties to the Washington community. I am grateful to have the endorsement of District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry, and I am also proud that D.C. Council Chairman David Clarke and Councilmember Frank Smith support this effort. I ask unanimous consent that statements from Mayor Barry and Chairman Clarke and Councilmember Smith be included in the Record.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
(See exhibit 1.)
Mr. GRAMS. In addition, my resolution has the strong support of more than a dozen of the area's residential, business, and historical organizations representing thousands of job providers and the District's half million residents. I ask unanimous consent to submit this list and supporting letters for printing in the Record.
Mr. President, I have come to the floor several times over the past year to voice my concerns about the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue.
I have talked about the damage it has done to Washington's business community, and the fear that it is scaring off new jobs and prompting potential retail and commercial tenants to stay away from the downtown area. I have talked about the damage it has done to Washington's business community, and the fear that it's scaring off new jobs and prompting potential retail and commercial tenants to stay away from the downtown area. I have discussed the hardships caused by the closing for anyone whose paycheck depends on access to the avenue, people like cab drivers and tour bus operators. I have outlined problem after problem the closing has created for the District itself, which had one of its major arteries unilaterally severed by the Federal Government without any consultation. I have discussed the inconvenience of our tourists, especially the elderly and disabled, many of whom are now being deprived of a close look at the White House. And I have talked about the tremendous cost for the taxpayers, a cost which has already reached into the millions of dollars.
I have raised each of those aspects of the closing because they are all relevant and pressing concerns. But that is not what I want to discuss today. There is another side to this issue that is easy to overlook amid all the other more obvious problems: the question of what the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue has done to the psyche of this city, and what we give up when we give in to fear.
The air was thick with fear in the weeks following April 19, 1995, when terrorists attacked the Federal building in Oklahoma City. How could something like this happen within our own borders, people wondered. And fear took hold. That was certainly the atmosphere in Washington--an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust that prompted the Treasury Department to close down two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue a month after the tragic Oklahoma City bombing.
Now, obviously, protecting the President and those who work and visit the White House must be a primary concern, a matter never to be taken lightly. The occupant of the Oval Office deserves every reasonable measure of security we can provide. So if the Secret Service had information that the White House was a terrorist target and the President was in danger, then it was absolutely prudent at the time to close Pennsylvania Avenue.
But that was an entire year ago, and a decision that may have appeared prudent then strikes many as regrettable and short-sighted today. Rather than helping the Nation face down our fear, the Government's decision to close Pennsylvania Avenue--and keep it closed--has only perpetuated it.
This is the White House today. Not a pretty sight, is it? The stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that stood for 195 years as `America's Main Street' is empty of any traffic--more a vacant lot than a working street.
Gone is the thrill for visitors of driving by the White House for the first time--the concrete barricades, traffic sawhorses, and ever-present patrol vehicles and armed officers have put an end to that.
Gone, too, is the sense of openness that inspired generations of visitors to feel close to the Presidency and their Government when they visited the Executive Mansion.
Today, there is an ominous atmosphere at the White House that you feel nowhere else in Washington. Visitors seem more to be tolerated than welcomed, and the fortress-like effect they discover there is unnerving.
I have no doubt that the place is secure--as secure as a bunker. But the price we have paid for all this security is immense because it has come at the expense of freedom.
Was it not Benjamin Franklin who warned against `giving up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety'? And liberty is precisely what we have given up by closing off Pennsylvania Avenue.
While we may have obtained some temporary safety, we have surrendered to fear in order to get it, even though one of the first lessons we teach our young people in their American history classes is that freedom cannot coexist with fear.
Mr. President, a visit to the Nation's capital can have a profound impact on the schoolchildren who visit here every year. It is a place where history comes alive, and every monument, museum, and historic site they visit is a page right out of the textbooks.
The feeling they get by being immersed in history can not be duplicated in a classroom, and I know that a trip to Washington, DC has inspired many, many young people to seek careers in public service.
But how confused they must be when they visit the White House. Before travelling here, they have studied the Revolutionary War.
They have read the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. They have been taught that the foundation upon which this Nation was built was our absolute right to be free from oppression. It is that freedom, we tell them--a freedom we hold sacred, and treasure above all else--that makes this Nation so different from any other.
So what do you suppose goes through their minds when they at last visit the home of their President and find it barricaded behind all that concrete?
The preamble to the Constitution, with its talk of securing the blessings of liberty, must ring awfully hollow if this is what liberty really looks like.
What lesson are we teaching them about the freedom we claim to value so highly? What kind of message are we sending our children when they discover that the very center of the free world is not so very free after all?
I can tell you what they are thinking. I visit the White House two or three times a month, and I have heard their comments and seen the disappointment in their faces. They tell me it is shameful, it is disappointing, and it is wrong.
If there is a compelling reason to keep Pennsylvania Avenue permanently closed, I hope someone will step forward and make their case. I have been asking the question for nearly a year now, and have not yet heard a reasonable answer.
The monetary cost of shutting Pennsylvania Avenue down has been enormous Mr. President, but the emotional cost of keeping it closed forever would be devasting.
We may only be talking about two, short blocks, but those two blocks have represented freedom and access since nearly the birth of this Nation.
While we must never allow ourselves to become reckless about our security, it is equally true that we must never allow ourselves to become reckless about our freedom, either, especially when freedom is represented by such a visible symbol as the White House.
The way Pennsylvania Avenue looks today, well, that is just not the America, envisioned by our Founding Fathers. It is certainly not the America John Kennedy spoke of in his 1961 inaugural address:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty.
That resolve may have softened on Pennsylvania Avenue, but it is not too late to rekindle that spirit.
I believe that good sense will prevail and the avenue will reopen. And someday, Mr. President, when they are old enough to appreciate what it all means, I will take my grandchildren to the White House.
I will show them the home of the Presidents--great leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, who defined liberty for a young Nation and ensured that this would forever be a place where freedom could flourish.
And when they realized that the President lives in a house just like they do, along a street a lot like theirs, my grandchildren will smile.
Castles and kings require moats and crocodiles, but Presidents, well, they make their homes in houses, set on busy streets, in the hearts of busy cities. Open and accessible. And that is just the way Presidents ought to live.
My grandchildren may not understand just what liberty and freedom really mean, but they will feel its powerful presence and I hope they will be inspired.
There are a thousand good reasons to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. President, but only one reason I can see for keeping it closed, and that is fear. We cannot allow fear to claim this victory.
We cannot allow the 1-year anniversary of the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue to pass without this Senate taking a stand on the side of freedom.
I urge my colleagues to support this resolution.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:
District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry.
D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke.
D.C. Councilmember Frank Smith.
American Bus Association.
Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, Inc.
Association of Oldest Inhabitants of D.C.
District of Columbia Building Industry Association.
District of Columbia Preservation League.
DuPont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B.
Federation of Citizens Association.
Frontiers of Freedom.
Greater Washington Board of Trade.
International Downtown Association.
Arthur Cotton Moore Associates.
Washington Cab Association.
Washington D.C. Historical Society.
Washington D.C. Restaurant and Beverage Association.
The District of Columbia,
Washington, DC, May 13, 1996.
Hon. Rod Grams,
Dirksen Senate Office Building,
Dear Senator Grams: I want to thank you for your continued interest in the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue and the impact it has had on the District of Columbia. The effects on traffic patterns and drivers' convenience, business income, parking revenue, and most important, public access to the White House, have all been significant.
I hope that your legislation expressing the sense of the Senate that Pennsylvania Avenue be reopened in front of the White House can be approved. I would appreciate your conveying my support for such legislation to your colleagues.
Please contact me or my staff if you have any questions or requests that I can help with. Again, thank you for your understanding and appreciation of the consequences of the blockades.
Marion Barry, Jr.,
We wholeheartedly support and applaud the effort by Senator Rod Grams and others to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to vehicular traffic--and thereby restore this most public of public streets to its historic use.
District of Columbia residents, businesses and visitors have suffered for one year with the constant traffic gridlock, uncompensated economic costs, and loss of freedom from this vehicular barricade between the east and west ends of America's historic main street and our downtown. We call upon the federal government to pay for the entire cost of identifying and mitigating every adverse impact which has resulted from the federal government's vehicular restrictions in the economic and historic heart of the nation's capital.
In July 1995 the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously adopted a resolution expressing concerns about the restriction of vehicular access to streets around the White House, which now also applies to restrictions placed upon other streets around certain Congressional and other federal buildings in Washington. Appended to this statement is the full text of the resolution which we co-authored.
Board of Trade,
Washington, DC, May 13, 1996.
Hon. Rod Grams,
U.S. Senate, Senate Dirksen Office Building, Washington, DC.
Dear Senator Grams: On behalf of the Greater Washington Board of Trade's membership, I applaud your efforts to reopen the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue and offer whatever assistance this organization might provide. As a representative of over 1,000 businesses located in the greater Washington region, we have heard from many of our members about the impact that the street closing has had on their businesses. In short, the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue, paired with the closing of the parallel section of E Street between 15th and 17th Streets, has resonated throughout the District of Columbia's road system. The resulting gridlock is, at best, impeding the mobility of business people, residents and tourists.
Of even greater concern is the likelihood that this is just the beginning of an imposing security trend; already we have heard rumors that additional street closings will occur Street closings cannot be an appropriate solution to security concerns; rather, they are nothing more than a `cure by amputation.' Already, the Pennsylvania Avenue experiment has demonstrated the crippling effect such a policy has on traffic flow, and additional street closings would further exacerbate the difficulty of doing business in the District of Columbia.
In your April 29th letter to President Clinton, you cite the rich history of Pennsylvania Avenue as `America's Main Street' and its symbolism of freedom, openness and access to government. But equally important are the more direct economic impacts that the street closing has imposed on the operation of the District of Columbia. Traffic on surrounding streets has reportedly increased far beyond capacity, despite efforts by the local government and the Federal Highway Administration to create one way corridors traveling east and west to improve traffic flow. And while rush hour traffic has always
been difficult, travel times across the downtown business district have more than doubled even during the mid-day hours.
Although many people consider Washington, DC to be only the home of the federal government, the City has a significant private sector community. A large number of those businesses are service oriented, requiring them to remain accessible to clients and customers. Thus, the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue is creating a hardship on the city's private sector, and in many cases, forcing them to reconsider whether they must relocate their operation outside of the District. In a city that is struggling to cope with dwindling revenues and the skyrocketing costs of human services, this is just one more factor contributing to the problems faced by the local government, the Congressionally appointed financial control board, and inevitably, the Congress in its role as steward of the Nation's Capital.
The business community recognizes that the safety of the President of the United States must be the top priority in decisions such as these. We believe, however that there may be more appropriate alternatives that would sufficiently mitigate potential security risks without shutting down the Nation's Capital piece by piece.
A decision to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue would go a long way to toward restoring mobility in the Nation's Capital. This is important to the people who live and work here every day, but it is also important to the millions of visitors who come from all 50 states. Should there be a decision to revisit the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Greater Washington Board of Trade would be happy to work with Congress, the Executive Branch and the local government to identify more realistic options for improving security in the Nation's Capital. Thank you for your efforts.
JOSEPH T. BOYLE,
Chair, KPMG Peat Marwick.
Chair, Venable, Baetjer and Howard.
Building Industry Association,
Washington, DC, May 6, 1996.
Hon. William J. Clinton,
President of the United States,
The White House, Washington, DC.
Dear President Clinton: I am writing to you in my capacity as president of the District of Columbia Building Industry Association. Our Association represents several thousand business people in the District of Columbia.
It has been almost one year since the executive order of the Secretary of the Treasury was issued restricting traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue, State Place and Executive Avenue. We understand that this was a very difficult directive for you to sign and that you had resisted several efforts by the Secret Service to restrict traffic in the vicinity of the White House in the past. While we in the Washington, D.C. business community were concerned about the process whereby this major traffic conduit was closed, the business community and citizens generally did not object to this action given the circumstances at that time.
In the past year, we have had time to experience the results of this action and feel it is time to reexamine this situation. Of course, your safety and the safety of the First Family and your staff are of paramount importance to all of us as citizens of the United States. However, the rerouting of traffic around the White House has resulted in serious traffic congestion on a daily basis, and exacerbated traffic problems during special events which are constant in Washington, DC, such as the Cherry Blossom Festival. Moreover, it has divided our city into an East and a West side causing both commerce and tourism to suffer negative economic consequences at the same time they are impacted by the City's debilitating fiscal crisis. These combined circumstances have had a disastrous effect on business and trade in DC.
While the emergency temporary restriction of traffic on these streets was warranted by the unique circumstances at that time, we do not feel this should be viewed and accepted as the long term solution to these security issues. Right now, there is a team of architects employed by the U.S. Government meeting to discuss alternatives for closing Pennsylvania Avenue prior to the official, legal closing of the street itself. We believe that alternative methods to provide long term improved security to the White House, such as structural reinforcements, improved fencing, electronic surveillance, limited traffic on adjacent streets to cars only, etc. should be reconsidered now. These alternatives may actually be more economical than the closing of these streets and certainly will be less costly in terms of diminished national prestige.
With the end of the Cold War five years ago, our country is more secure than at any time in this century. Since this time of relative peace is due in large part to American leadership, it is truly ironic that symbolically we are retreating by further limiting access to and around the White House. One could only imagine the outcry by Parisians if the French Government closed the Champs-Elysees in front of the Presidential Palace. Washingtonians have been very patient and understanding with the temporary closing of Pennsylvania Avenue, the most important street in the L'Enfant Plan. But now is the time to search for a better long term solution.
Just as we are sure you would reject suggestions that you limit your personal interaction with the American people such as your daily jogging, town meetings and other high-risk interactions with the public, we urge you to reconsider this highly visible statement to the American people and international tourists and reopen Pennsylvania Avenue.
So while we fully support the temporary measures taken by your administration to restrict traffic around the White House, we urge you to set up a task force to find alternate means of providing adequate security for the White House with the ultimate goal of reopening these streets by Inauguration Day 1997. Our Association is prepared to participate in this task force and provide whatever resources are necessary in order to accomplish this goal.
Thomas W. Wilbur,
Building Industry Association,
Washington, DC, May 9, 1996.
Re Closure of a Section of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Secretary of the Treasury's Order dated May 19, 1995.
Hon. Robert E. Rubin,
Secretary, Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC.
Dear Secretary Rubin: I am writing to you in my capacity as Chairman of the Legislative and Governmental Affairs Committee of the District of Columbia Building Industry Association (`DCBIA').
For your information, DCBIA is comprised of over 275 member organizations and over 1,000 individuals ranging from lenders, property owners, developers, property managers, construction companies, contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers, lawyers, accountants, and others involved in the real estate industry. In other words, those who finance, own, develop, renovate, upgrade, improve and manage real property in the District, together with all of the providers of the additional services necessary to the real estate industry.
May 19, 1996 will mark the first anniversary of your directive to the Director of the United States Secret Service to close a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. and certain other streets. This emergency, temporary directive was intended to enhance the perimeter security of the White House. Under applicable federal law, your authority to prohibit vehicular traffic on public streets is temporary in nature, and is predicated on certain findings of fact which must be applicable at the time of the initial directive and at all times thereafter while the directive remains in effect.
DCBIA believes that now is an appropriate time to undertake a number of endeavors, including but not limited to, reexamining the factual determinations of one year ago, confirming that the Department of the Treasury is in compliance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, the Department of the Interior's Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House, the National Park Service, the National Capital Planning Commission, and all other applicable local and Federal requirements.
Now is also an appropriate time to reexamine the economic, physical and psychological impact of the street closures on the many thousands of American citizens that have had to bear the direct and immediate impact of your directive. Some of these people travel to the Nation's capital daily for their jobs and businesses, while others are visitors from places near and far. All of them have shared the serious and significant delays, detours and related problems of the street closures. The serious negative impact upon the local business community has become difficult if not impossible to accurately assess. The directive has simply divided our city to the detriment of all, and has fostered a `bunker mentality' among the citizens of the city, many of whom observe, on a daily basis, the barricades, uniformed Secret Service personnel and similar indicia of a city under siege directly in front of the Presidential residence.
DCBIA wishes to be absolutely clear on the issue of the safety of the President and the First Family. It is not a question of whether or not any of us doubt the supreme importance of protecting the President of the United States. We assert emphatically that the security of the President is and should be of profound importance to every American citizen, and every person who loves freedom and democracy. But at the same time, the directive issued in the name of safety and security is quite simply killing the city. When people cannot move freely and easily it impacts productivity and commerce. But the impact does not stop there. Eventually there are psychological and spiritual effects that are no less real or important. The District of Columbia cannot afford to make it more difficult than it already is to work, play and live here. The directive issued almost one year ago is doing just that.
DCBIA urges you and your staff, in conjunction with other public officials, to reopen the entire issue of the street closures for full and fair consideration. DCBIA seeks to be an active participant in this process and is committed to using its resources to help reopen Pennsylvania Avenue.
We look forward to your response and appreciate having this opportunity to raise this matter with you.
NELSON F. MIGDAL,