White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha refused to chastise Vice President Kamala Harris Friday after she hugged at least one person without wearing a mask despite having been exposed this week to COVID-19 by President Biden.
Hours earlier, Harris had attended the National Urban League Conference in Washington, where she removed her mask on stage and hugged Birmingham, Ala. Mayor Randall Woodfin.
CNN reporter MJ Lee raised the matter at the daily White House briefing.
“Vice President Harris is a close contact of the president and the CDC guidance says that if you’re a close contact, you want to wear a well-fitting mask when you’re around other people,” Lee said. “She just was at a conference in DC and she hugged someone without a mask on, she also maskless for most of that conversation. Would you have recommended that she keep your mask off, given that is CDC guidance?”
Jha, who leads the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and serves as that effort’s chief public relations officer, at first attempted to plead ignorance.
“I’ve not been tracking the vice president’s activities, so I don’t have anything specific to say about what she did,” Jha said. “My understanding is the vice president is following CDC guidelines for close contacts, She’s also been recently infected, so within the 90 days of a previous infection.”
Lee followed up, saying, “I guess she isn’t following the CDC guidance, though, right, if she’s hugging someone without a mask on? I just wanted your clarification on that.”
“The CDC guidance is clear, but I think the problem is me commenting on the vice president [when] I haven’t seen it or I don’t actually know what happened if very, very difficult,” Jha again deflected.
Washington Examiner reporter Katherine Doyle pointed out to Jha, however, that the basic facts about what Harris did were not in dispute.
“She took off a mask and she embraced someone. You don’t have to see it. I mean, that’s what happened,” Doyle told Jha.
The coronavirus chief again shrugged off the matter, saying, “I didn’t see the hug. I don’t know how long the hug lasted.”
The Biden administration previously urged strict adherence to CDC guidelines, encouraging members of the public to wear anti-COVID-19 masks well into the second year of the pandemic.