About 1 year ago, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, whose department is charged with protecting the President, ordered the Secret Service to close Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic in front of the White House. His decision was not made precipitously but only after it was called for by the most comprehensive study of White House security in our Nation's history. That study, which was conducted by a body called the White House Security Review, determined that the threat of violent acts against the White House, and other Federal buildings, had grown much more serious over the last decade.
It does not take a big study to tell us that times have changed and that there is a greater threat to Federal buildings such as the White House. The World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing, not to mention the murder near CIA headquarters 10 miles from here, are ample evidence of the threat that domestic terrorism now poses in America.
Mr. President, all of us agree that the White House is the property of the public, that it should be as accessible as reasonable possible. But the White House Security Review clearly found that the threat to public safety from an open Pennsylvania Avenue far outweighed the inconvenience to commuters and sightseers in cars. After much consideration the Review concluded that it was, not able to identify any alternative to prohibiting vehicular traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue that would ensure the protection of the President and others in the White House complex from explosive devices carried in vehicles near the perimeter. These findings were endorsed by its independent bipartisan Advisory Committee, which included former Secretary of Transportation William Coleman and the former Director of the FBI and CIA, Judge William Webster.
According to every authorative study of the situation, restricting car traffic around the White House is more than reasonable. It is essential.
Many argue that Secretary Rubin's actions have had a negative effect on America's enjoyment of the White House. However, tours have continued as scheduled, and visitors can now enjoy walking and biking down Pennsylvania Avenue without danger of vehicular traffic. The White House is still the people's house and many would say that enjoyment has been increased by the evolving pedestrian mall.
Perhaps the strongest argument against closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House is that it causes traffic problems for city motorists. While it is true that closure of this area has increased an already bad traffic problem, the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration and the District of Columbia's Department of Public Works are examining short-term and long-term measures to reduce traffic problems in the city.
Again, inconvenience of drivers around the White House cannot take precedent over the safety of the public who visit the White House, the public servants who work in the White House and, of course, the President and his family. Our Government and society places a high value on human life and I think even the most anxious D.C. driver would not want their zeal to get around town to result in harm to another American.
It is also valuable to note that the creation of a pedestrian mall is consistent with President Washington's vision for the White House, and it is similar to a proposal that President and Mrs. Kennedy endorsed a generation ago.
Mr. President, Americans have long been known for their freedom, but I like to think Americans are also known for their common sense. While I realize that restricting access to any public building is not consistent with America's sense of freedom, I would argue that reopening Pennsylvania Avenue is contrary to our good common sense.
Mr. President, Secretary Rubin made a wise decision a year ago. He used his common sense and decided that closing Pennsylvania Avenue was the right thing to do. Let's not overrule his good judgment or jeopardize the people's house by reopening Pennsylvania Avenue.