Step aside, superspreader weddings.
It’s the holiday season, and even as a worsening, Thanksgiving-fueled COVID-19 surge ravages America, there’s another problem: Politicians are hosting dangerous Christmas parties.
In Texas, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he received RSVPs from 500 guests for a Christmas lunch he holds annually for county employees. “We are not forcing anyone to attend,” the Republican said, adding that the venue was designed to hold up to 2,500 people.
“We’re following all CDC guidelines for occupancy and restaurant guidance,” Keough, who recently drew headlines over charges for driving while intoxicated, told The Daily Beast. (Keough maintains that he was on a prescribed dose of Ambien at the time of the crash.) “We have shown time and time again that while following the guidance and proper use of PPE and hand-washing we can have safe events.”
“Every year our county employees enjoy a Christmas lunch,” he added. “Our employees deserve some normalcy, and we are taking extra steps to ensure safety.”
He’s not alone. While the country is plenty familiar with President Trump’s reckless campaign rallies—and the likely superspreader event at the Rose Garden tied to his own diagnosis—many other politicians living off taxpayer money are themselves planning to indulge in crowded holiday cheer.
Worse, these politicians are playing with pandemic fire just weeks or months before vaccine distribution in their communities.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hosted a Tuesday evening fundraiser where the 50 or so attendants were given Christmas ornaments signed by the lawmaker, even as Patrick suggested “the Texas Capitol should be locked down due to COVID,” according to Scott Braddock, editor of Quorum Report. Representatives for Patrick, also a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Texans seem to stand out for the holiday-season pandemic party thirst: More than 40 state lawmakers were set to hold in-person fundraising events this week alone in Austin, per a list compiled by a lobbying group and first-reported by KXAN-TV, though the sizes of those many events were unclear as of Wednesday. State Rep. John Bucy, a Democrat, planned one at an outdoor venue and State Rep. James Talarico, also a Democrat, was throwing a virtual fundraiser.
Yet the phenomenon is a national one: A slew of Republican governors have also come under fire in recent days for their plans to celebrate the season, including Tate Reeves in Mississippi and Ron DeSantis in Florida.
“Please be extra cautious and mindful during this time,” Reeves tweeted on Monday. “In the meantime the best tool is the same: wear a mask. Avoid crowds. Be smart. Protect loved ones.”
But in addition to a fundraiser held last week by a hospital executive for Reeves that reportedly violated indoor capacity limits in that county, the governor has planned several Christmas parties at the Governor’s Mansion. He will reportedly host separate parties for both chambers of the legislature, including the 122-member House of Representatives and the 52-member State Senate.
Bailey Martin, a spokeswoman for the governor, told The Washington Post that the events will follow Reeves’s executive orders and that he had “canceled or delayed many mansion events this year, including the 1st Friday Christmas Candlelighters event and their daughter’s 16th birthday party, and have only continued with those events that can be conducted safely.”
COVID-19 statistics continue to set new records in Mississippi, and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has recommended that state residents avoid holiday gatherings beyond close family members, reported Mississippi Today.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis was also panned for inviting state lawmakers to a holiday reception at the Governor’s Mansion. All 120 House representatives, 40 state senators, and their plus-ones were invited. He also was slammed for a non-holiday event this past weekend, where, as The Daily Beast reported, dozens of MAGA types basked in the glow of their November wins in the state—maskless, in close quarters. Representatives for DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
“Modeling the best #COVID19 behavior means not hosting parties, and here is our Governor, hosting a party, for lawmakers,” tweeted State Rep. Anna Eskamani. “I won’t be going… I refuse to ignore basic safety guidelines by the CDC.”
Last Thursday, Illinois State Rep. Brad Halbrook held a Christmas party with more than 100 attendees, featuring Illinois State Rep. Darren Bailey, at a popular banquet hall. From photos of the event obtained by ABC7, the crowd listening to the two Republican lawmakers wore few masks and sat close together at dozens of tables. Halbrook did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Of course, Democrats have participated in their fair share of absurdist COVID hypocrisy. The most recent examples include Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s Thanksgiving flight home for the holiday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s November trip to Cabo San Lucas after his daughter’s wedding, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s now-infamous attendance at a French Laundry birthday party.
But while those scandals set terrible examples for the public, none can possibly compare in transmission potential to the at least 20 White House parties planned this holiday season, many of which are set to be indoors, according to The New York Times. The guest lists are said to feature lawmakers, officials, and allies; Republican National Committee officials; campaign staff members; and others.
“I see a lot of people at the parties wearing masks,” Trump told reporters at Tuesday’s COVID-19 vaccine summit. “I think that’s a good thing.”
One of the president’s legal advisers, Jenna Ellis, attended a White House Christmas party on Friday and then tested positive for the coronavirus. Ellis, who has also spent time with Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—who also tested positive this week—was not wearing a mask at the White House event, Politico reported.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is hosting an indoor Christmas party on Dec. 15 for hundreds of guests, at which he plans to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing, according to a spokesperson for the department. The Washington Post reported that Pompeo invited almost 1,000 people to the event and that, separately, the State Department hosted about 200 guests on Tuesday night at the presidential guesthouse for another holiday gathering.
Many of these events—planned by the top officials in the U.S. government—were announced the same week that COVID-19 was reported as the leading cause of death in the country for the first time. On Thursday, a key advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration is set to review a vaccine from Pfizer that has already been OK’ed in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Whether the robust guest lists at all these quasi-official parties will decide to partake in “normalcy,” amid the risk of mass illness and death, remains to be seen.