Menendez raised the issue after The Washington Post reported that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, have invited more than 900 guests to an indoor holiday party at the State Department on Dec. 15 that includes food and drinks after the department encouraged employees to avoid “non-mission critical” in-person gatherings due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“It is one thing for individuals to engage in behavior that flies in the face of CDC and public health guidelines. But it is another to put employees and workers at risk, some of whom include contractors, such as catering and wait staff, who do not receive the full benefits of federal employment and may not have health insurance,” said the Menendez letter, which was obtained by The Post.
Pompeo is hosting several parties in the next two weeks even as the Trump administration’s own health experts are imploring Americans to limit travel and avoid large gatherings amid a pandemic that has killed at least 277,000 people and infected 14 million across the United States.
“We plan to fully enforce social distancing measures at this reception, and face coverings are mandatory for admittance,” said a State Department spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning matters.
When asked how he could expect attendees to keep masks on at a reception that includes food and drinks, the spokesman did not offer a response. He also did not explain how the department would enforce social distancing, if even a fraction of the 900 guests show up.
The parties have also prompted criticism from the American Foreign Service Association, a nonpartisan union that represents diplomats, which issued a statement Friday calling on the department to “reverse course and model responsible behavior in accordance with its own guidelines.”
The union noted that the department’s leaders have urged embassies and consulates around the world to host only virtual holiday gatherings this year. “It is therefore disconcerting to hear of these plans, which not only go against the Department’s own guidelines but also health regulations in Washington, D.C. and the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the union said.
Menendez noted that CDC guidance makes clear that in-person gatherings where attendees come from outside the local area, even if spaced at least six feet apart, are considered “higher risk.” And large in-person gatherings where maintaining a six-foot distance is not feasible are considered “highest risk.”