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House slammed over new member banquets as Americans are told to skip holiday gatherings with family

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has defended the move

J. Scott Applewhite - Pool/Getty Images

Leadership in the House of Representatives was lambasted Friday for moving forward with traditional banquets welcoming newly elected members of the lower chamber to Washington, D.C., while Americans are being warned against large holiday gatherings outside their immediate households due to concerns over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

What are the details?

NBC News congressional correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell set off a firestorm across the political spectrum when she tweeted out a picture showing the Capitol building's National Statuary Hall filled with dining tables.

"House Dem and GOP leaders are holding respective dinners for new members," Caldwell wrote, noting, "@SpeakerPelosi told me it's safe. 'It's very spaced,' she said and there is enhanced ventilation and the Capitol physician signed off."

The Twittersphere reacted with fury, with many pointing to the hypocrisy of such a move.

"This is setting such a bad example," the Daily Beast's Jackie Kucinich replied. "Doctors are asking Americans to skip family gatherings for Thanksgiving to slow the spread but sure, enjoy the golden tables in a Stat Hall, a room without working windows."

Conservative writer and politico Rachel Bovard reacted, "AHAHAHA I tried to have a normal wedding reception this year and every venue told me to get bent."

Food Network judge and chef Andrew Gruel pointed out, "We just had to close dining at our New Mexico locations due to a state lockdown."

"Rules are for thee, not for Pelosee," chided former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, in a dig at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Following heat after news broke about the dinners, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, said that the event had been "modified."

"Our office strictly follows the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician, including for this dinner," he wrote. "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."

Later in the evening, Hammill tweeted out, "Members-elect are now picking up their boxed meals and departing the Capitol. There is no group dinner. Members-elect are in DC already for orientation."

It is unclear how many people—including incoming members and invited guests—were present at the Democrats' "dinner" on Friday evening, or how many are expected at the Republicans' planned engagement.

Some House races remain undecided across the country, but UPI reported Friday that "about 50 new members of Congress gathered to start the process of hiring staff and setting up offices as they transition to Washington" during "orientation in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium."

One last thing…
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