President Biden hosted hundreds of guests on the White House lawn Friday to celebrate Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court — despite a spate of COVID-19 infections among his inner circle.
The event went ahead despite the fact that Biden bashed his predecessor Donald Trump for hosting “super-spreaders” after a much smaller 2020 Rose Garden event for then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Biden walked onto the South Lawn with Jackson and Vice President Kamala Harris on either side shortly after noon — with Harris surprising onlookers by opting not to wear an anti-COVID-19 face mask. The veep was expected to do so pursuant to White House policy because she’s considered a “close contact” of her communications director Jamal Simmons, who tested positive for the virus this week.
Biden praised Jackson and slammed Republican senators for their at-times contentious grilling of Jackson on matters such as sentences in child pornography cases during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
“I knew the person I nominated would be put through a painful and difficult confirmation process. But I have to tell you, what Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that — the verbal abuse, the anger, constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless assertions and accusations. In the face of it all, Judge Jackson show the incredible character and integrity she possesses,” Biden said.
The Senate voted 53-47 on Thursday to confirm Jackson as the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She will replace retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer. All Democrats and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah voted to confirm her.
Jackson said in an at-times emotional speech that “it has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it.”
The judge, who dabbed tears from her eyes while speaking, said that “in my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
“I am standing on the shoulders of my own role models — generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity, but who got up every day and went to work. believing in the promise of America, showing others through their determination, and yes, their perseverance that good, good things can be done in this great country,” she said.
Biden told his audience Friday that he had spoken hours earlier with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and told him that Jackson would be the first black woman on the Supreme Court “out of over 200 judges” who have held the lifetime post, misstating the total number of justices since 1789. In fact, Jackson will be the 116th member of the high court.
The president also offered awkward praise for the African-American judge’s brother, a former police officer, telling him, “Stand up, man. This is a man who looks like he can still play, buddy. He’s got biceps about as big as my calves.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Attorney General Merrick Garland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and a number of senior Biden aides were unable to attend the event after testing positive this week.
A large number of infections are linked to this past Saturday’s white-tie Gridiron Club dinner. First lady Jill Biden’s spokesman Michael LaRosa disclosed Friday that he tested positive after attending the haughty gala.
Pelosi tested positive Thursday after she attended White House events with Biden on Tuesday and Wednesday. The White House claimed that she was not a “close contact” of the president despite the fact that Biden kissed Pelosi on the cheek Tuesday before the House speaker hovered over Biden’s shoulder during a bill-signing Wednesday.
Biden skipped the Gridiron dinner to spend the weekend at his home in Wilmington, Del., where he often hosts his sister Valerie Biden Owens. The president’s sibling revealed her own COVID diagnosis Thursday, but her publisher said she was not a close contact, though it’s unclear if she socialized with him in the past week.
The wave of COVID-19 cases brought the virus close to Biden, who turns 80 this year. The president’s advanced age puts him at elevated risk of serious illness or death. He has received four doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, which can reduce the severity of sickness.
Former President Trump fell ill with COVID-19 after hosting the event honoring Barrett and was hospitalized for three nights at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
It’s unclear what would happen if Biden were to contract the virus and the White House hasn’t said whether he is taking any prophylactic medications to preempt symptoms.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser also tested positive this week, as did Collins and a large number of journalists who attended the Gridiron dinner.
Biden has repeatedly dodged the virus, which has killed almost 1 million US residents, despite many infections over the past month both in his inner circle and among other prominent national Democrats.
Since mid-March, the virus has infected second gentleman Doug Emhoff, former President Barack Obama, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, White House press secretary Jen Psaki, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and at least seven House Democrats who attended a Philadelphia convention at which Biden spoke.
US coronavirus cases remain much lower than the height of the Omicron variant surge in January, but the 7-day rolling average shows a small increase this week as more people catch the BA.2 subvariant.