White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday defended Vice President Kamala Harris for not wearing a mask during an outdoor event celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Harris was deemed a close contact to covid this week after her communications director, Jamal Simmons, tested positive.
CDC guidelines says those indiviuals who are exposed but are vaccinated and boosted – as Harris is – should ‘wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure.’
Harris was not wearing one when she walked out of the White House with Jackson and President Joe Biden nor did she put one on during the event.
Psaki said the vice president did wear a face mask indoors but took it off because the event, marking the confirmation of the first black woman to the Supreme Court, was outside.
‘She was outside,’ Psaki said. ‘You can benefit significantly being outside that’s why we have we had the event outside today. I will tell you that the Vice President has been wearing a mask inside when there was a private group. They were all wearing masks.’
CDC guidelines do not distinguish between being indoors or outdoors.
Psaki also said Harris was ‘socially distanced for the vast majority of the event today.’
When a reporter asked her about Harris standing on stage with President Biden, Psaki responded: ‘Six feet away.’
Harris did hug Jackson at the event, but Psaki said it was because the vice president had an ’emotional moment.’
‘She had an emotional moment as which is understandable,’ she said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Vice President Kamala Harris (above) for not wearing a mask during an outdoor event celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to SCOTUS
‘She was outside,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in her defense of Vice President Kamala Harris. ‘You can benefit significantly being outside that’s why we have we had the event outside today’
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, walks out of the White House for the event on the South Lawn
Simmons announced his positive covid diagnosis on Wednesday. The vice president’s office, in the announcement, said Harris was deemed a close contact and would consult with her doctors.
Simmons was at a Tuesday event at the White House marking the one-year anniversary of the Affordable Healthcare Act, where he hugged former President Barack Obama.
Harris was also at that event. And, on Thursday, she did not wear a face mask in the Senate chamber when she presided over the vote to confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court. She did wear one in the hallways of the Capitol.
Psaki said she didn’t wear one during the vote because Harris, the country’s first black vice president, was ‘playing an important role’ in the confirmation process.
‘She was playing an important role in in confirming or overseeing the confirmation of the first black woman to the Supreme Court,’ Psaki said. ‘She was socially distanced from people for the vast, vast majority for time overseeing that confirmation.’
Two senators who were at the vote – Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia – tested positive for covid later Thursday afternoon.
Collins was at Saturday’s white-tie Gridiron Dinner, where several cabinet members, lawmakers and journalists in attendance later tested positive. Simmons, the Harris staffer, also attended the dinner.
The White House, meanwhile, acknowledged on Friday that Biden could get covid.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told CNN that it’s certainly possible Biden, 79, will get covid at some point, but noted that he’s vaccinated and double boosted so a severe case is unlikely.
The admission comes as more people with access to the president – including cabinet officials, lawmakers and his sister – have tested positive for the virus.
‘We take precautions to ensure that the president is protected. But I do think it’s important to note that, you know, it is possible he will test positive for covid at some point,’ Bedingfield said Friday morning. ‘The president is vaccinated and double-boosted and so, protected from severe covid.’
‘The president is certainly living his life. Just as, as you say, all Americans across the country are while taking precautions,’ she noted.
There were a few hundred people at Friday’s event on the South Lawn to celebrate Jackson’s confirmation.
The White House has pushed back to comparisions of Friday’s event to the September 2020 event in the White House Rose Garden where then-President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
That event turned into a super spreader, where multiple people in attendance – including President Trump, Melania Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Mike Lee and Chris Christie – later tested positive for covid.
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said the country was in a different place than where it was for the Barrett announcement.
‘We’re in a very different place than we were, for example, when they held that event for Justice Barrett, which is to say, we have vaccines. We have treatments,’ she told CNN.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also defended Friday’s celebration, pointing out the event will be outside.
‘It’s supposed to be a beautiful day. That is a big factor,’ she said.
However, Psaki could not say if Judge 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. Neither were wearing face masks.
Vice President Kamala Harris presided over Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation vote to the Supreme Court on Thursday in the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine (left) and Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia (right) – both of whom were on the Senate floor on Thursday to vote for Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court – later tested positive for covid
The White House lifted its face mask policy after the case rate went down for the Washington D.C. area.
Psaki also dismissed concerns Jackson’s celebration could turn into a superspreader like Barrett event.
‘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 on Thursday.
The outdoor event comes after some guests at Tuesday and Wednesday’s indoor White House events tested positive for covid – including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Biden was not deemed a close contact to Pelosi because, the White House said, he did not meet the CDC guidelines of being within six feet of her for more than 15 minutes.
‘It did not meet that bar,’ Psaki said of Biden and Pelosi’s time together.
The tightening circle of positive cases around the president led to the repeated questions to Psaki about his safety and health.
She spent most of Thursday’s press briefing defending the administration’s protocols to keep Biden healthy.
Pskai 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.
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.
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
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
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
The White House has pushed back to comparisions of Friday’s event for Judget Jackson to the September 2020 event in the White House Rose Garden where then-President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court
That event turned into a super spreader, where multiple people in attendance – including President Trump, Melania Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Mike Lee and Chris Christie – later tested positive for covid
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.
Pelosi was not at Saturday night’s Gridiron dinner, a white-tie event of Washington media and officials.
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.
But Biden’s sister Valerie Biden Owens, 76, was at the Gridiron dinner and tested positive for covid, her publisher announced on Thursday. A planned party for her memoir was canceled and her publisher said she is not a close contact with the president or first lady.
Several members of Biden’s cabinet and lawmakers who were at the dinner later tested positive including: Attorney General Merrick Garland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Senator Collins, and Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Joaquin Castro.