White House crashers spur policy change
WASHINGTON - The Secret Service will change some of its screening policies after an attention-hungry couple was able to crash President Obama’s first state dinner.
A government official familiar with the plans said yesterday that from now on, a staff member from the White House social office will work with the Secret Service at the gates where people check in to attend official events.
The couple, meanwhile, denied yesterday that they were gate-crashers and said the uproar over the incident had destroyed their lives.
In their first interview since last week’s dinner, Tareq and Michaele Salahi said on NBC’s “Today’’ show that there is more to their side of the story - an explanation that would exonerate them from allegations of misconduct.
“We were invited, not crashers, and there isn’t anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that,’’ Michaele Salahi said. “No one would do that, and certainly not us.’’
But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted yesterday the Salahis had not been invited and described President Obama and his wife, Michelle, as angered by the incident. “You don’t show up at the White House as a misunderstanding,’’ Gibbs said on MSNBC.
Michaele Salahi had hoped to land a part on an upcoming Bravo reality show, “The Real Housewives of D.C.’’ NBC’s parent company, NBC Universal, also owns the cable network Bravo, which says no decisions have been made on who will make the final cut for the show.
Earlier this year, the Salahis also attended a Congressional Black Caucus party, and there are now questions about whether they had invitations to that affair, as well.
Muriel Cooper, a spokeswoman for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, confirmed that the Salahis were escorted out of a foundation dinner on Sept. 26. She said the couple was sitting at a $20,000-per-table section at the event where Obama was the keynote speaker. When other guests complained that someone was in their seats, the Salahis were asked to show their tickets. They were asked to leave when they could not produce them.
“They didn’t argue,’’ Cooper said. “They just looked a little sheepish and were escorted out.’’
Tareq Salahi told the “Today’’ show they were invited to that party as well, as the guests of a Baltimore law firm, whose managing partner is their lawyer.
The Secret Service is investigating what went wrong, and a congressional hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that the $787 billion stimulus package created or saved between 600,000 and 1.6 million jobs through the end of September.
The report, released Monday, said that the total economic output was 1.2 percent to 3.2 percent higher than it would have been without the stimulus, and the unemployment was between 0.3 percentage points and 0.9 percentage points lower.
Vice President Joe Biden, in charge of the recovery package, made the most of the CBO report, calling it further evidence of the success of the stimulus. “From independent economists to Congress’s own nonpartisan research body, the experts have spoken, and the debate is no longer whether the Recovery Act is creating and saving jobs, but how we provide even more opportunities to drive growth and support American workers,’’ Biden said in a statement.
But Representative Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that the CBO report “provides very little comfort to the 15.7 million Americans currently unemployed.’’
“What we have is a stimulus that is paying for government jobs with private sector jobs and has failed to lower unemployment,’’ Issa said in a statement.
Also yesterday, Ed DeSeve, senior adviser to the president for the stimulus plan, wrote a reply to House GOP leader John Boehner, who had blasted the administration’s jobs “saved or created’’ numbers as made up “from thin air.’’
DeSeve said there is “nothing mysterious, ephemeral, or uncertain’’ about the role the recovery package has played in saving the jobs of teachers, firefighters, police officers, and others who otherwise would have been laid off by cash-strapped state and local governments.