Newly elected Democratic members of the House altered their plans for a group dinner planned for Friday night in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall after Democratic leadership faced criticism about the gathering amid a national coronavirus surge.
“Members-elect are now picking up their boxed meals and departing the Capitol. There is no group dinner,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeted Friday evening.
Pelosi had defended the dinner earlier in the day Friday, telling reporters the venue was “very spaced” and that there were safety protocols in place. “It’s very spaced, we have all the permission and the ventilation from the doctor,” she said.
A senior Democratic aide had told CNN there was enhanced ventilation in the room, that only four members would be at each table, and that the event was happening under the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician.
In an earlier Friday evening tweet, Hammill said: “Our office strictly follows the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician, including for this dinner. To be a further model for the nation, this event has been modified to allow Members-elect to pick up their meals to go in a socially-distanced manner.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Saturday morning that his team was meeting to discuss their plans for an all-member dinner planned for Sunday night in the Capitol.
“But what we did beforehand, we had the medical doctor come in, we put a new vent system in there,” the California Republican told Fox News. “It’s a one-time dinner at the Statuary Hall, and we’ve taken all of the precautions, following the CDC and others of what you can and how you can meet together, and that’s what we’re trying to do, is to secure the safety of every individual.”
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The coronavirus pandemic has continued to worsen and the United States hit a new daily record for new cases on Friday, with at least 154,576 cases reported, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Pelosi has frequently criticized President Donald Trump for the White House’s handling of the pandemic.
Earlier Friday during her weekly news conference, the California Democrat admonished Republicans to “listen to science on the way to the vaccine” and highlighted the need for isolation and separation.
“Testing, tracing, treatment, mask-wearing, isolation, separation, sanitation all of those things because the sooner we do that and the sooner we have a vaccine, the sooner we crush the virus,” she said. “I hope it would be an incentive for people to follow science.”
At a separate news conference on Thursday, Pelosi said of the pandemic and the devastation it has caused, “This is a red alert and all hands on deck, but it should have been a long time ago. The President and the Republicans in Congress have ignored by delay, distortion, denial.”
She went on to say, “Deaths have been caused. And what are they doing now? Continuing to ignore, in spite of these numbers that should be so compelling, that are an imperative for us to act upon this. Every kind of avoidance of taking responsibility has been witnessed. Every chance that we had for testing, tracing, treatment, mask wearing, separation, sanitation, that science tells us to do, they have ignored.”
A group of incoming House Republican freshmen visited the White House Friday night, according to multiple postings CNN has spotted on social media. Among the members-elect were QAnon-promoter Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, who won the former seat of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
The members-elect, who were not wearing masks in most of the photos, got a tour of the White House but did not meet with the President, according to an administration official with knowledge of the President’s schedule.
Politico first reported the visit, and said it was spearheaded by McCarthy. His office declined to give a comment to CNN.
This story has been updated Saturday with additional reporting.