California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has found himself in the same hot water that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was in after her hair salon trip this summer, in his case for a dinner at Napa County’s ultra-exclusive French Laundry restaurant that bucked the tenor of his own COVID-19 safety advice.
Newsom apologized Monday for setting a bad example, admitting that the dozen-person birthday dinner he attended for a friend and political adviser on Nov. 6 violated the greater caution he’s been preaching.
“I made a bad mistake. Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back out to my car,” the governor said at a press conference, noting that he didn’t realize how many people would be there until he arrived. “You can quibble about the guidelines, but the spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted. I’ve got to own that. So I want to apologize to you.”
It’s true that Newsom appears to have acted in accordance with official state rules, which are slightly more relaxed than what he’s been urging people to do as cases have skyrocketed in California. While the party had people from more than three households in attendance ― which California’s guidelines forbid at private gatherings ― the rules don’t specify any household limits for restaurant dining.
Newsom also emphasized that they were seated outside, but here’s where things get murky. On Wednesday, Fox 11 Los Angeles published photos it had obtained of the governor and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, at the dinner, and it looks like an indoors affair.
The partygoers appear to be gathered in this room pictured on the French Laundry’s website. While the room does open to the outside, potentially allowing for better air circulation, it’s a stretch to call this outdoor dining. Politico deemed it “a fancy garage.” A source also told Fox 11 that the large sliding door to the outside was closed for part of the dinner.
Indoor dining was allowed in Napa County at the time of the dinner, but Newsom appears to have exaggerated the COVID-19 safety measures in place. His office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s question as to whether Newsom stands by his characterization of the dinner as being outdoors.
Other Wednesday morning revelations have kept the heat on the event. Even as health officials nationwide urged people not to give in to “pandemic fatigue,” two California Medical Association officials, CEO Dustin Corcoran and top lobbyist Janus Norman, went to the party. The CMA, which is a powerful lobbying presence in the state Capitol, represents around 50,000 physicians in California.
The scandal will probably blow past Newsom, given his otherwise robust pandemic response, but it comes at a time when the state can’t afford for people to start bending the rules around group gatherings. Like most of the country, California has seen a massive surge in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, forcing many counties to close down sectors of the economy again as hospitals brace for a further uptick in cases linked to holiday travel.
Newsom and Pelosi aren’t the only California state lawmakers to come under scrutiny for their personal pandemic choices. Despite travel warnings from the state’s health officials, several legislators from California (and other states) just flew to Hawaii for a policy conference.