White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday insisted President Joe Biden was not a close contact with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has tested positive for covid, despite the hugs and kiss on the cheek they shared at two separate events this week.
Psaki noted that CDC guidelines define close contact as ‘is being within six feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24 hour period.’
‘It’s not arbitrary. It’s not something made up by the White House. It’s CDC guidelines,’ she said at her daily press briefing.
As she was repeatedly grilled on the matter, Psaki doubled down, noting the CDC ‘definition of it is 15 minutes of contact within a set period of time and within six feet.’
‘It did not meet that bar,’ she said of Biden and Pelosi’s time together.
Psaki spent the majority of Thursday’s press briefing defending the White House announcement that Biden was not in close contact with the speaker and repeatedly explaining the protocols the administration has in place to keep Biden from getting infected.
The president, who is 79, is vaccinated and double boosted. The White House removed its face mask policy after cases went down in the DC area. Biden went bare faced at those events as did many guests.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted President Joe Biden was not a close contact with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has tested positive for covid, despite the hugs and kiss on the cheek they shared – above Biden and Pelosi at a Tuesday event at the White House
White House press secretary Jen Psaki spent the majority of Thursday’s press briefing defending the White House announcement that Biden was not in close contact with the speaker and repeatedly explaining the protocols the administration has in place to keep Biden from getting infected
President Joe Biden and Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson watch as the Senate votes on her confirmation from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday
But the past week has seen an uptick in positive tests – particularly among people who have access to Biden, leading to the questions about the policies in place to keep the 79-year-old from getting infected.
In addition to Pelosi, lawmakers, two cabinet officials and several members of the White House press corps tested positive for covid following Saturday’s Gridiron dinner – a white tie gathering of D.C. elite – and after a goodbye party for former National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne late last week.
Psaki said there were strict policies in place at the White House to protect the president and other principals.
‘We have incredibly stringent protocols here at the White House that we keep in place to keep the president safe. to keep everybody safe. Those go over and above CDC guidelines,’ she said.
She noted that senior staff are tested regularly and that anyone meeting with the president is tested.
‘If you’re going to see him in person, whether you’re traveling with him or you’re meeting in the Oval Office, you will be tested,’ she noted.
However, Psaki could not say if Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had tested negative for covid on Thursday. Jackson joined Biden in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to watch the Senate vote to confirm her to the Supreme Court. Photos show Biden and Jackson holding hands and hugging.
The White House has scheduled a celebration for Jackson in the Rose Garden on Friday. The outdoor event comes after some guests at Tuesday and Wednesday’s indoor events tested positive for covid – including Speaker Pelosi and Kamala Harris’ communications director Jamal Simmons.
The vice president was considered a close contact to Simmons.
Harris was at Tuesday’s event celebrating the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, as was Pelosi. Pelosi hugged both Biden and former President Barack Obama, who was in attendance. Obama also hugged Simmons, who later announced his positive covid diagnosis.
Psaki also pointed out that Friday’s event will be outside – the other events were held indoors due to rainy weather in Washington D.C.
‘It’s supposed to be a beautiful day. That is a big factor,’ she said.
She dismissed concerns Jackson’s celebration could turn into a superspreader like President Donald Trump’s celebration for his Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s did. Barrett’s event was also held in the White House Rose Garden.
‘Well, one, at that point in time vaccines weren’t available. People were not vaccinated. It certainly puts us in a different space,’ she said.
The tightening circle of positive cases around the president led to the repeated questions to Psaki about his safety and health.
She said there were no plans to change covid protocols or reinstate a face mask policy for the White House.
‘We expected there to be ups and downs and increases,’ she said of the case rate.
She said there were no plans to test the president daily. Biden tested negative for covid on Wednesday evening and is tested regularly.
‘That would be a decision made by his doctor, but that is not deemed to be necessary at this point,’ Psaki said.
Pelosi’s office announced on Thursday – shortly before the speaker was scheduled to hold her weekly news conference – that she had tested positive for covid.
Her office said she had tested negatively previously this week. The speaker is vaccinated and boosted.
Pelosi, 82, was at the White House on Wednesday when President Joe Biden signed a postal reform bill. She stood by the president and shook hands with him. And she was at the White House for Tuesday’s event.
She was seen wearing a mask at one point on Wednesday but she also took it off for the bill signing.
The White House said Biden was not considered a close contact.
‘The President is not considered a close contact of Speaker Pelosi as defined by the CDC,’ the White House said in a statement on Thursday.
‘The President saw Speaker Pelosi at White House events and had brief interactions over the course of the last two days. Last night as a part of his regular testing cadence, the President tested negative. He will continue to be tested regularly. The President wishes Speaker Pelosi a speedy recovery.’
Pelosi’s office said she has no symptoms and is quarantining.
‘After testing negative this week, Speaker Pelosi received a positive test result for COVID-19 and is currently asymptomatic. The Speaker is fully vaccinated and boosted, and is thankful for the robust protection the vaccine has provided. The Speaker will quarantine consistent with CDC guidance, and encourages everyone to get vaccinated, boosted and test regularly,’ Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said.
Pelosi was not at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner, a white-tie event of Washington media and officials. Hammill was in attendance.
Biden’s sister Valerie Biden Owens, 76, was at the Gridiron dinner and tested positive for covid, her publisher announced. A planned party for her memoir was canceled and her publisher said she is not a close contact with the president or first lady.
Vice President Kamala Harris wore a face mask in the halls of the Senate on Thursday after being deemed a close contact to a staffer who tested positive for covid
Speaker Nancy Pelosi tested positive for covid on Thursday – she was at the White House on Wednesday when President Joe Biden signed a postal reform bill (above)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi wears a mask as she arrives for an event with President Joe Biden signing the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also at the White House on Tuesday for an event marking the anniversary of the Affordable Health Care act – she hugged former President Barack Obama
Biden’s sister Valerie Biden Owens, 76, was at the Gridiron dinner and tested positive for covid
On Wednesday, several lawmakers, cabinet members and senior staff announced they tested positive for covid after attending the invitation-only exclusive Gridiron dinner, which is showing signs of being a super spreader.
Kamala Harris’ communications director was one of them and is considered a close contact to the vice president, Harris’ office said.
Jamal Simmons, who joined Harris’ office in early January, is isolating and working from home.
Harris ‘will follow CDC guidance for those that have been in close contact with a positive individual and will continue to consult with her physician,’ her spokesperson Kristin Allen said in a statement. ‘The Vice President plans to continue with her public schedule.’
Harris wore a face mask in the halls of the Senate on Thursday when she went to Capitol Hill to preside over Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation vote.
It’s the second recent exposure for the vice president, whose husband Doug Emhoff tested positive for covid last month.
Jamal Simmons (left) with former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris at an event at the White House on Tuesday; Simmons tested positive for covid on Wednesday
Obama gave Simmons, Vice President Kamala Harris’ communications director, a hug at the event
Simons is the latest covid case among a spike of positive tests through Washington D.C.’s bold-faced names, many of which have close ties to the White House.
Attorney General Merrick Garland tested positive for covid on Wednesday after sitting at the head table with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, another positive case, at the white-tie Gridiron Dinner.
Garland, who is vaccinated and boosted, is showing no symptoms.
‘He asked to be tested after learning that he may have been exposed to the virus,’ the Justice Department said in a statement.
The announcement came after Garland held a press conference Wednesday on Russian sanctions. He did not wear a face mask and was surrounded by his deputies. He will isolate at home for at least five days and return to the office following a negative covid test.
Earlier Wednesday Raimondo tested positive with an at-home antigen test after ‘experiencing mild symptoms,’ the Commerce Department said in a statement.
‘Today, I tested positive for COVID. Fortunately, I am fully vaccinated (and boosted!), and I am confident that this vaccine is the reason I don’t have more severe symptoms,’ she wrote on twitter.
The department said she shared her diagnosis ‘out of an abundance of transparency.’
She will isolate for five days and work from home. Raimondo stayed late at the event, hanging out at an after party and speaking to several members of the media who were in attendance.
President Biden was not considered a close contact, the Commerce department said.
Biden was not at Saturday night’s dinner. Neither Garland nor Raimondo attended a packed White House event on Tuesday celebrating the Affordable Healthcare Act, where Biden and former President Barack Obama spoke.
Gridiron Club president Tom DeFrank said on Wednesday afternoon that there are 14 dinner guests who are known to have tested positive for covid.
‘There is no way of being certain about when they first contracted Covid,’ his statement says. ‘But they did interact with other guests during the night and we have to be realistic and expect some more cases.’
Attorney General Merrick Garland tested positive for covid after attending the Gridiron dinner; he spoke at a press conference earlier Wednesday
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo tested positive for covid after attending the white-tie Gridiron Dinner on Saturday night
Raimondo was the keynote speaker at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner, one of the poshest events of the D.C. social season. The private dinner, held in a Washington D.C. hotel, did not release photos or video footage of the night.
Guests were required to show proof of vaccination but were not required to have a negative covid test ahead of the dinner.
More than 600 people crowded together in rows of tables in the Renaissance hotel ballroom.
Raimondo was seated at the head table with high-profile guests like Garland, Ukrainian ambassador Oksana Markarova and White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Most attendees at the dinner, which included members of Congress and other administration officials – were maskless.
Among those in attendance were Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Joaquin Castro, both of whom attended the dinner, also announced positive covid tests this week. Multiple reporters who attended the dinner have also tested positive.
‘I’m feeling fine, and grateful to be vaccinated and boosted. In the coming days, I will quarantine and follow CDC guidelines,’ Schiff tweeted.
‘Unfortunately, after avoiding COVID-19 for two years, I’ve come down with it. I tested negative yesterday & last Thursday, but positive today,’ Castro tweeted on Tuesday.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (left) and Joaquin Castro (right), both of whom attended the Gridiron dinner, also announced positive covid tests this week
Psaki said on Monday that the White House covid policies have not changed in light of the jump in cases with close ties to the administration.
‘Our policy is that all Executive Office of the President employees surrounding the President are on a regular testing schedule to screen for COVID on campus. That is a step beyond CDC guidance. If you’re going to see the President, you will be tested that day, even if you’re not traveling with him — just if you’re going to see him for a meeting,’ she said at her press briefing.
‘And meetings with the President are often socially distanced in many circumstances as an additional precaution, even as people are tested,’ she noted.
Biden is vaccinated and boosted. He received his second booster shot last week.
The Gridiron Club dinner is an off-camera, off-the-record event for members of the media. Politicians and other a-list figures are invited to its annual dinner.
The event features a Republican speaker, a Democratic speaker, and a speaker representing the sitting administration, along with a series of sketches performed by club members.
This year’s dinner – the club’s 137th – featured Raimondo, Republican Gov. of New Hampshire Chris Sununu, and Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.