Unfortunately, things have changed since my first visit in '91 with regard to visiting the White House. Tours are currently ONLY possible in groups of 10 (private citizens) arranged through your congressman. I applied for my tickets for June in January. Typically, they will give a yeah or neah 1 month before the date(s) you ask for. Further, you will be asked to provide full names and social security numbers for each person wishing to enter the White House. After a simple background check, your congressman will let you know your appointment time.
At the White House, you must provide a picture ID and follow the rules, which you will receive beforehand. They are the strictest rules for any "sight" in D.C.: no cameras, no cell phones, and no packages, bags, purses beyond a specified size. One lady ahead of us failed to follow the rules and could not enter with her giant purse. If you do as your asked, though, getting in was easier than I anticipated, just a quick check of the list by a uniformed officer, a run through what must be more than your typical airport detector, and you’re in.
There are no tour guides following you around, but instead, guides are posted in the various rooms you will see to answer any questions and give you a short spiel on what your seeing. It’s quite odd to realize you’re walking down the same hall you see the president using when he has a speech to deliver in the East Room.
Rooms are filled with period furniture and paintings. The most famous paintings are the full-sized portrait of Washington in the East Room and Lincoln in contemplation in the Formal Dining Room. Portraits of our most recent presidents and first ladies are also displayed. The White House is surprisingly warm and inviting, not at all intimidating like the Supreme Court was.
Tours are conducted beginning at 7:30am every half-hour until 11:30am, when visitors are shooed out, the carpets fully rolled back, and VIPs like foreign dignitaries start to arrive. You are allowed to take a good look and only be prompted to "move along" should the crowd begin to bunch up. The day we visited, an Amish family with their 19th-century dress was in line, along with a fellow who only needed a sprig of wheat to complete the farmer tableux of overalls and work boots. Then came us Hispanic Americans. We are certainly a diverse people. E plurubus Unum!