Inaugural luncheon lastest pandemic casualty

By Chris Cioffi
CQ-Roll Call/TNS

WASHINGTON - The century-old tradition of the post-inauguration lunch is the latest pandemic casualty as COVID-19 continues to upend the ceremonies around the Jan. 20 swearing-in of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Inaugural Luncheon tradition, which has been around since the late 1800s, has evolved into a three-course meal and musical performance in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall for the new Cabinet, the Supreme Court and congressional leadership. The hall, however, will be quiet after this January’s scaled-back inauguration, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced Tuesday.

“The health and safety of all guests attending the ceremonies has remained a top priority throughout the planning process,” Paige Waltz, the committee’s communications director, said in a statement.

Waltz cited the ongoing pandemic as the reason why the committee, in consultation with the Presidential Inaugural Committee, would not be holding the event to celebrate the new president’s first day in office.

It’s one of the latest changes that’s been made this year to reduce crowd sizes in an effort to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus that has sickened over 19 million and killed more than 334,000 people in the United States.

The inauguration ceremony, which has in the past included nearly 200,000 tickets for attendees, this year will be reduced to the sort of numbers associated with a State of the Union address. The committee said it will not be opened to the public, and each member of the 117th Congress will instead be provided with a ticket for themselves and one guest.

The reduction in size comes despite a recent and expanding vaccination campaign for lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill.

Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, on Monday sent a memo to all members of Congress asking them to designate a limited number of staff members to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Two staffers from each personal office and four from the staff of each chairman and ranking member of committees will be eligible, according to the memo.

The drive to vaccinate members of Congress began just days after the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved for emergency use.

Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and outgoing Vice President Mike Pence have received their first doses of the vaccine.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were some of the first to get the vaccine on Dec. 18, sharing photos of themselves receiving their first of two doses.

The Inaugural Luncheon - one of the hottest tickets in town - is usually held away from the prying eyes of cameras and crowds. It is typically an intimate affair where congressional leaders and other dignitaries get some face time with the new president.

In 2017, after former President Barack Obama took off on a military helicopter from the East Front of the Capitol, President Donald Trump, Pence and others dined on a spread of lobster and steak, with pairings of California wine.

This January’s lack of lunch also means there may also be a lack of gifts for the attendees.

After the 2009 luncheon, where Obama and then-Vice President Biden feasted on a lunch of seafood stew, pheasant and sponge cake, the guests didn’t leave empty-handed. The new president and VP provided the roughly 200 guests with crystal vases.

It’s not clear whether the would-be guests, who won’t be getting lunch, will still get a gift.

The presidential inaugural platform is under construction in front of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 9, 2020, in Washington, D.C.