Obama 60th birthday party during COVID puts Biden White House on the defensive: Hundreds expected at Martha’s Vineyard
If Obama’s 60th bash is anything like his 50th and 55th when he was president, this will be a party packed with celebrity boldface names — and a lot of people from Chicago.
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama is throwing himself a 60th birthday bash with hundreds of people over the weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, where he has a home, forcing White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki onto the defensive at the Monday briefing over whether he was setting the wrong example with concerns about COVID spread still high.
Here’s what we know so far:
· The Chicago Sun-Times has learned the main party is Saturday night.
· The invitees at the outdoor party include, a source said, “family, friends and former staff.” If Obama’s 60th is anything like his 50th and 55th when he was president and Michelle Obama’s 50th at the White House, the party on this Massachusetts island will be packed with celebrity boldface names — and a lot people from Chicago.
· From the source, to the point about a mass gathering even among the fully vaccinated as the Delta variant spreads: “Guests at this outdoor event will follow all CDC public health protocols, including a testing regimen managed by (a) COVID coordinator.
Guests will have to be COVID-tested, the source said, and are asked to be fully vaccinated.
· Though Obama is protected by Secret Service agents, the COVID coordinator and other precautions will not be at taxpayer expense, the source said. I’m told “hundreds” of people are expected to attend. Axios reported there could be up to 475 guests.
· Obama turns 60 on Aug. 4, days before construction starts at the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Aug. 16, when the Obama Presidential Foundation takes possession of what will be its 19.3 acre campus. The foundation will host a formal “groundbreaking” in the fall.
As part of the Obama 60th birthday rollout and in advance of the Obama Center building beginning, HBO’s “Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union” kicks off for three nights beginning Tuesday.
· No gifts, please. But donations to the foundation will be welcome. From the source: “In lieu of gifts, guests are being asked to consider giving to Foundation programs “that work to support boys and young men of color and their families here at home in the United States, empower adolescent girls around the world, and equip the next generation of emerging community leaders including the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the Girls Opportunity Alliance, or the Obama Foundation’s Global Leadership programs.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki — a veteran of Obama’s 2008 first presidential campaign who served in his administration — was ready when asked during the briefing if Obama was “setting the wrong example about how serious COVID-19 is by hosting a big birthday party with hundreds of people this week?”
FOX News correspondent Peter Doocy was asking as the Delta variant is surging. Psaki came to the briefing prepared.
Psaki was so ready to be grilled on Obama’s party that, when asked, she thumbed through her briefing book for her notes prepared in advance. It was obvious she had already coordinated with Obama’s post-presidential team.
“Well, I would certainly refer you to the team who is working for my former boss to give you more specifics of what the protocols are in place,” she said.
“But I would note, first, that former President Obama has been a huge advocate of individuals getting vaccinated,” she said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “has provided guidance” on “indoor settings in high or substantial high zones of COVID cases.”
“This event, according to all the public reporting, is outdoors and in a moderate zone,” said Psaki. She did not mention that Provincetown, at the end of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, was hit with a COVID outbreak, even among the vaccinated, prompting the CDC to issue new indoor mask guidance.
Doocy asked if there was concern the Obama party can become a “super-spreader event” and if Obama can have a party with several hundred guests, is it OK for everybody?
Said Psaki, “Well, we certainly advise everyone to follow public health guidelines, which I know the former President — who is a huge advocate of getting vaccinated, of following the guidance of public health experts — would certainly advocate for himself as well.”
This big Obama party — even outdoors, with COVID precautions — is a storyline the Biden White House didn’t need. It makes it harder for President Joe Biden and his allies to be critical of how GOP governors are handling masking and vaccinations as the Delta variant spreads.
Biden is not attending the party. It’s Obama’s birthday. And Biden’s headache.