House Democrat's change new-member dinner to grab-and-go after facing criticism

House Democrat's change new-member dinner to grab-and-go after facing criticism

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WASHINGTON – An indoor dinner at the Capitol hosted by House Democrats for new members was changed to grab-and-go after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faced criticism Friday that the event was unsafe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A picture from NBC Congressional Correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell of the original set-up in Statutory Hall in the Capitol building started gathering attention on Twitter. Pelosi, D-Calif., told her it is safe and “very spaced.”

Running list: Which members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19?

After some of the criticism to the indoor event, Drew Hammill, Deputy Chief of Staff for Pelosi, said, “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.”

“Our office strictly follows the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician, including for this dinner,” he said.

Hammill told USA TODAY the dinner will only be “Grab and go” and clarified no one will now be eating in the space.  

He later tweeted: “Members-elect are now picking up their boxed meals and departing the Capitol. There is no group dinner.”

Coronavirus updates: 20M Americans could receive vaccine next month; 5 states issue restrictions

However, House Democrats are not the only body of Congress to hold an event like this.

Senate Republicans have been holding lunches every single week they are in session in a closed, indoor space. 

USA TODAY has reached out to GOP House leadership about whether they’re holding an indoor event. 

Many said the events should be cancelled in their entirety as many Americans are canceling their Thanksgiving plans as the pandemic rages throughout the country.

The U.S. has reported more than 10.7 million cases and 244,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

More:More than 100 Secret Service officers infected with COVID-19 or quarantining as virus surges across country

Doug Heye, who served as deputy chief of staff House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and communications director for the Republican National Committee, tweeted: “Every time I’ve agreed with Democrats criticizing Trump and other Rs for irresponsible action and rhetoric around Covid, I didn’t think Nancy Pelosi would hold a potential super spreader dinner in the Capitol.”

Chelsea Clinton tagged both Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in her post, asking them to cancel the dinners to keep “yourselves, your new members, servers, the Capitol police and all of their families and contacts” safe from COVID-19.

Thursday, Pelosi called COVID-19 a “red alert and all hands on deck.”

“The President and the Republicans in Congress have ignored by delay, distortion, denial. 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,” Pelosi said. “Every kind of avoidance of taking responsibility has been witnessed.”

The House held orientation Friday for newly elected members who will be joining the chamber in the next Congress. Representatives-elect and members wore masks and socially distanced throughout the day. 



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