The gate to the White House is visible from the front steps of the John A. Wilson Building.
Yet, when Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) went to the White House on Friday afternoon to request that Obama use new license plates, instead of walking, a District employee drove them the two blocks.
Cheh and Mendelson both got into the back seat of a city hybrid vehicle about 1 p.m., arriving at a White House door about five minutes later.
In an interview before they left, Cheh defended the car ride, saying it was “more efficient” because they wanted to “avoid being followed by a trail of people,” including reporters.
But did Cheh and Mendelson also at one time have an even grander — and more secure — White House arrival planned?
According to an official with knowledge of the matter, Cheh inquired this week to D.C. police about whether she and Mendelson could have a police escort to the White House.
Police balked at the idea, officials said.
When asked, Cheh said she made a casual inquiry to Police Chief Cathy Lanier about whether a police escort was needed for crowd control, but she quickly backed off the idea.
After the council approved a resolution Tuesday calling on Obama to change the license plates on his presidential limousine, Cheh noted that some council members suggested that District residents should join members in marching over to the White House to present the request.
“There were some people talking about getting up a group to come with us to the White House and I simply alerted her to the fact that, if that happened, it may be necessary,” Cheh said. “But it never happened … so when I found out this was just some speculation, I never followed up.”
Cheh added that she was just being “overly cautious” because she “had this specter” of having so many people attempting to join the march that additional security precautions would be needed.
“I was just thinking about all the possibilities of what might be,” Cheh said. “But, no, it was never an actual request, because we didn’t need it. I just had this specter, if it had been a large crowd, I didn’t want this to be disruptive. I didn’t want this to be a disruptive experience.”
Cheh and Mendelson’s car ride to the White House turned out to be problem-free.