The White House is ignoring the reality of the worsening pandemic and moving ahead with its slate of holiday parties, packed, semi-unmasked indoor gatherings that fly in the face of what the Trump administration’s own scientists are advising Americans to do in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. As public-health experts urge against congregating in large groups, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump — reportedly “determined to have a final holiday season in the White House,” despite their mutual disdain for the festivities — have at least 25 indoor holiday parties on the docket. It appears Trump is also using the events to deny another reality: his election loss.
“We’re going to win this election in a landslide,” Trump assured guests at a Wednesday night Hanukkah party, more than a month after the presidential election was called for Joe Biden. “All I ask for is people with wisdom and with courage, that’s all,” the president continued, calling on Republicans to back his anti-democratic battle for four more years.
The event was one of two White House Hanukkah parties held yesterday, each attended by more than 100 guests, according to the Times of Israel. Trump only made an appearance at the second party, addressing a mostly masked but not socially distanced crowd with a variety of false promises of victory. He went on to claim that he won this year’s race against Joe Biden “in a much easier way” than he did in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, per the Washington Post, and touted the support of the 17 Republican attorneys general who backed his latest long-shot legal challenge on Wednesday. In one video of the holiday party, a cough can be heard from the crowd amid calls of “Rigged!” and “We love you!” — an audible reminder of the ongoing public-health crisis, and not the first time someone has been captured hacking during this year’s festivities.
The twin festivities occurred the same day that the U.S. surpassed 3,000 coronavirus deaths for the first time, the highest daily death-toll total thus far in the pandemic. The single-day record — more than the number of Americans killed on 9/11 — was joined by another grim milestone, as a record 106,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.
Trump isn’t the only member of his administration ignoring these devastating facts. The Hanukkah party came a day after a holiday function hosted by the State Department, which was reportedly attended by some 200 guests, including the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Egypt, South Korea, and Guatemala. Tuesday’s event included a tour of the White House’s holiday decorations and a subsequent “self-guided tour” at Blair House, the presidential guesthouse across the street, which was the reported site of a new positive coronavirus case last week. A State Department spokesman said the “Holiday Cheer” reception that usually follows the tour was canceled due to concerns about COVID, yet according to the Post, “two bars were set up in the guesthouse as the face-shield-wearing catering staff poured drinks into holiday-themed paper cups. Guests unmasked to consume the beverages, causing people to congregate and create occasional choke point.” The State Department festivities are scheduled to continue: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is hosting two receptions next week, including an event with an invitation list of more than 900.
Trump defended the parties earlier this week, telling a reporter, “We’ve reduced the number very substantially” and “I see a lot of people at the parties wearing masks.” Both claims run contrary to what photos and videos have depicted, and Trump himself boasted about attendance while speaking at one such event on Monday, telling the crowd, “This is a big group of people tonight,” as ABC News notes. Jenna Ellis, a lawyer for the Trump campaign who shared a photo of herself at a White House holiday party on Friday, has since tested positive for the coronavirus. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who oversees the agency telling Americans to avoid large gatherings, said he attended a White House holiday function this season, telling CNN he wore a mask and “felt comfortable” and “safe” at the party, where he also claimed there were fewer guests than in previous years. “Most of the individuals around me were wearing masks, we worked to keep distance,” Azar said.
Someone on the First Lady’s staff is apparently accepting reality, however, judging by the “Be Best”–branded backpacks, Frisbees, water bottles, and other swag gifted to children who attended Tuesday night’s State Department event. The department apparently has a stockpile of merchandise promoting FLOTUS’s anti-bullying and wellness initiative — gear that’s typically given out when the First Lady travels abroad but that aides are now dumping because they realize there will be no second term. “It’s time to get rid of the leftovers,” one U.S. official told the Post.