House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tested positive for the coronavirus, her office said Thursday, after spending two consecutive days unmasked at the White House with President Biden, Vice President Harris and other top Democratic officials.
Biden, 79, just received a second booster shot, but he hosted two large indoor gatherings at the White House this week, including a Tuesday event with former president Barack Obama on health care and a signing ceremony Wednesday for a bill on reforming the Postal Service. At the bill signing ceremony, images show Biden and Pelosi, who is second in line in presidential succession, hugging and kissing. A handful of officials who attended the events have since tested positive for the virus.
On Friday, Biden is scheduled to hold an event on the White House South Lawn to celebrate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Biden and Jackson watched the Senate vote on her nomination Thursday at the White House together.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the White House’s protocols Thursday, saying any additional measures to protect Biden “would be made by the president’s doctor.”
“We have incredibly stringent protocols here at the White House that we keep in place to keep the president safe, to keep everybody safe,” she said. “Those go over and above CDC guidelines.”
Psaki said staff members who interact with Biden are tested, and every White House official is on a regular testing schedule. But as cases of the virus spread throughout elected officials, White House staff and journalists, there are growing concerns that Biden could contract the virus.
Pelosi, 82, is the first in congressional leadership to test positive, and her office said she is currently asymptomatic.
“The Speaker is fully vaccinated and boosted, and is thankful for the robust protection the vaccine has provided,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said in a statement. “The Speaker will quarantine consistent with CDC guidance, and encourages everyone to get vaccinated, boosted and test regularly.”
People who have tested positive for the coronavirus should isolate for five days, according to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would mean Pelosi will need to do so until at least next Monday.
Pelosi did not attend the Gridiron Club dinner Saturday, after which more than a dozen guests — including two Cabinet members, three members of Congress and a top aide to Harris — tested positive for coronavirus. Those included Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.). Valerie Biden Owens, the president’s sister, also tested positive after attending the dinner.
Harris tested negative for the virus Thursday.
Pelosi’s diagnosis was disclosed just as she was scheduled to hold a weekly news conference Thursday morning. Reporters waited for Pelosi, then began filing out of the room as news spread of her positive coronavirus test. The briefing was later canceled.
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Pelosi’s closest friend in Congress, said that she attended two events with the speaker Tuesday and Wednesday evening, the latter of which was a large party for a portrait unveiling of Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the retired congressman who served as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“It was a very large gathering, it was a very large gathering, but she seemed to be in fine form,” Eshoo told reporters Thursday morning.
On Tuesday evening, Eshoo hosted a dinner party that also had the House speaker in attendance. Despite learning of her close friend’s diagnosis Thursday morning, Eshoo was not wearing a mask during votes or off the House floor, a decision that might change soon.
“It does, it gives me pause, it gives me pause,” she said, suggesting she would try to take a test before getting on a plane later today to fly back to her district outside San Francisco.
After nearly two years of being quite vigilant in wearing a mask, Pelosi pivoted last month on the day of the State of the Union address, sitting behind Biden not wearing a mask. Since then, she has mostly not worn a mask, even as some of her most senior advisers have worn them in public settings.
She is the first of the top four leaders of the House and Senate caucuses to test positive for the virus, but the pandemic has been rampaging throughout her caucus for the past few months. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) contracted the virus two months ago, while Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) tested positive just before Christmas as the omicron variant surge began. At least two junior members of her leadership team, Reps. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), have also tested positive, with Clark announcing her result Wednesday.
Pelosi had also been planning to lead a congressional delegation to Taiwan and Japan this weekend, according to officials familiar with the speaker’s plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm them. Hammill said Thursday that Pelosi’s planned trip “to Asia … will be postponed to a later date.” Pelosi would have become the first House speaker to travel to Taiwan since Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) did so in 1997.
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden sent an unofficial delegation of former U.S. defense and national security officials to Taiwan in an effort to show that the United States’ commitment to Taiwan remained “rock solid,” according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the trip then.
At the time, the official did not cite Ukraine specifically as the reason for the U.S. visit but noted that it followed “a long-standing bipartisan tradition” of presidential administrations sending “high-level, unofficial delegations” to Taiwan.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Taiwan to take steps to bolster its military readiness against a possible attack from China. China claims Taiwan as its own and has asserted that it could one day use force to take control of the self-ruled democracy — and Beijing has in recent months sharpened its rhetoric about a possible takeover. The United States has for decades not taken a position on the status of Taiwan’s sovereignty, and the White House has asserted repeatedly that the United States opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo.
Yasmeen Abutaleb, Paul Farhi, Roxanne Roberts and Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.