One of those challenges — the Covid-19 pandemic — will loom over the celebratory event.
The event comes days after two members of Biden’s Cabinet — Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — announced they tested positive for Covid-19. Several high-profile Washington figures, including lawmakers and other White House and administration staffers, also tested positive after attending the annual Gridiron dinner.
The dinner brings together some of the city’s most prominent journalists, including from CNN, and the government officials they cover. Attendees had their vaccination status checked, but negative Covid-19 tests were not required to enter.
Last year, a White House event where President Donald Trump announced his choice to nominate then-Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court was ultimately labeled by public health experts as a coronavirus superspreader event. At least a dozen people who were at the Rose Garden event — including Trump — confirmed they had contracted Covid-19 shortly after their attendance. Vaccinations for Covid-19 were not yet available and would be authorized months later.
At the time, the tightly packed ceremony where public health guidance was flouted and many went maskless and social distancing went largely unobserved underscored the Trump White House’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis. Trump had suggested in conversations with advisers that masked and socially distanced events would project weakness against the pandemic and could contradict his claims the outbreak was “rounding the corner.”
White House communications director Kate Bedingfield on Friday told CNN’s John Berman that the country is in a “very different place” in the pandemic than it was when Trump hosted the White House event for Barrett.
“Certainly we have seen an increase in cases. We know that the BA.2 variant is very transmissible. We are taking many, many precautions. We take precautions to ensure that the President is protected,” Bedingfield said on CNN’s “New Day.”
She continued, “But I do think it is important to note that, you know, it is possible he will test positive for Covid at some point. And 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. The President is vaccinated and double boosted, and so protected from severe Covid.”
The President on Wednesday interacted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has since tested positive for Covid-19. The two were seen next to each other at a bill signing event. The White House has said Biden was not considered a close contact of Pelosi. The White House also said the President tested negative Wednesday night as part of regularly scheduled testing and that Biden will continue to be tested regularly.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has shifted its guidance on various parts of the pandemic response a few times throughout the last two years, currently says that in general people do not need to wear masks when they are outdoors. The CDC recommends people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people.
Jackson will be officially sworn in to the Supreme Court after Justice Stephen Breyer retires sometime this summer. Until then, she will remain in her current position on the US Court of Appeals, a White House official told CNN.