House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both faced wide-ranging criticism Friday for planning large, indoor dinners for new members even as the coronavirus pandemic reaches startling new heights, with Pelosi saying the pandemic is currently “an emergency of the highest magnitude.”
Both Republicans and Democrats planned dinners for newly-elected members, as part of their new member orientation before the next Congress convenes in January.
Pelosi told an NBC News reporter Friday that the Democratic dinner would be safe, saying “it’s very spaced,” and adding that there is a boosted ventilation system inside the U.S. Capitol, parts of which are over 200 years old.
Pelosi also claimed that the Capitol physician had signed off on the dinner.
Plans for the Democratic dinner were “modified” after social media fallout Friday, with a Democratic official saying Friday evening that that members were picking up boxed meals to-go.
The opulent dinner plans were met with essentially universal backlash on social media, especially since Americans are repeatedly being warned about the dangers of gathering to eat with their own families during the holidays, while some parts of the country have ordered restaurants to again close their indoor dining rooms.
“This is a red alert, all hands on deck,” Pelosi said Friday during her weekly press briefing. “As Leader Schumer and I discussed yesterday, this is an emergency of the highest magnitude.”
The U.S. is shattering its record for case increases on almost a daily basis. Health officials reported a new record with more than 160,000 new cases on Thursday. Before November, the country had never added 100,000 cases or more in a day, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Hospitalizations have also spiked to new records for each of the past three days, while deaths are now again averaging over 1,000 per day, data from The COVID Tracking Project shows.
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President-elect Joe Biden released a statement Friday saying that the pandemic is “accelerating right now.” Dr. Michael Osterholm, one of Biden’s top advisors on Covid, said he’d consider a 4-6 week national lockdown to get the pandemic under control, saying Wednesday “We are entering this period that I call Covid hell.” Biden has not publicly endorsed that plan.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statement Friday saying that “we should have modeled better behavior” after he and his family attended a birthday party for one of his political advisors at the ritzy restaurant The French Laundry in Yountville, California, in apparent violation of state health guidelines.
Newsom attended French Laundry party with more households than California advises during pandemic (San Francisco Chronicle)