For more than a century, the White House Easter Egg Roll has been insulated from the sort of partisan sniping that now dominates Washington politics.
That tradition ended Monday, when Republicans started complaining about a notice that the event could be canceled due to a potential government shutdown. The Obama administration has already come under GOP criticism for canceling White House tours due to the mandatory, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
The memo — which doesn't actually say the White House is nixing the bunny fest, but just that it might do so at some point during the next couple of weeks — warns ticket-holders that the nation's financial woes may affect the 135th Easter Egg role slated for April 1. (Note: this is not an April's Fools Day joke.)
"Finally, by using these tickets, guests are acknowledging that this event is subject to cancellation due to funding uncertainty surrounding the Executive Office of the President and other federal agencies," it reads. "If cancelled, the event will not be re-scheduled. We will notify you if there are any modifications to this event."
House and Senate members received the memo last week, along with the notice that each congressional family would receive a total of five tickets; Politico first reported news of it Monday.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was quick to attack the Obama administration over the issue, tweeting: "Shameless! How else can you describe the threat to cancel white house Easter egg hunt? Maybe pathetic, demagogic? You try to find right words."
A White House official, who was not authorized to discuss the planning of the event on the record, confirmed the warning went out to all ticket-holders who received confirmation they secured tickets, including those who obtained passes through a lottery.
Congress has yet to finalize a continuing resolution, which could pass within a matter of days.
"Because we distribute tickets to the Easter Egg Roll far in advance, we alerted all ticket holders that this event is subject to cancellation due to funding uncertainty, including the possibility of a government shutdown," the official wrote in an e-mail. "However, we are currently proceeding as planned with the Easter Egg Roll."
In fact, first lady Michelle Obama has invited guests of her own to the event, including the family of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was slain in Chicago just a week after performing at President Obama's second inauguration. CBS Chicago reported Monday that Hadiya's mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, and her 10-year-old son Nathanial have accepted the invitation; the White House official said they had been invited but did not confirm their attendance.
Staff writer Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.