The Slatest

Obama Sharply Scales Back 60th Birthday Bash Amid Rising Concerns Over Delta

Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle arrive for the 59th inaugural ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle arrive for the 59th inaugural ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pool/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama was planning a huge bash this weekend to celebrate his 60th birthday. But now he’s slashed the guest list amid concerns about the COVID-19 Delta variant. Some of the hundreds of guests had already arrived, or were on their way, to Martha’s Vineyard for the Saturday party when Obama canceled the big bash and transformed it into a gathering for “family and close friends,” according to a spokeswoman.

More than 400 people, including former administration officials, celebrities, and Democratic Party donors, were planning to attend the party that included a medical “coronavirus coordinator” charged with collecting proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 tests. Among the celebrities expected to attend were several big names, including Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. The party, which would have also included some 200 staff, was planned as an outdoor gathering that followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols. “They’ve been concerned about the virus from the beginning, asking invited guests if they had been vaccinated, requesting that they get a test proximate to the event,” said David Axelrod, a former top Obama adviser. “But when this was planned, the situation was quite different. So they responded to the changing circumstances.”

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The change in plans came after Obama seemed willing to move forward with the event despite controversy. Some of Obama’s supporters were quick to point out that Martha’s Vineyard is in an area that has been designated of “moderate” COVID-19 community spread and Massachusetts has a high vaccination rate. Even Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary who worked in Obama’s administration, came to the former president’s defense.

Despite the preparations and protocols, the event raised criticism as some feared it would send the wrong message at a time when the White House is calling on Americans to take the virus more seriously. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he wasn’t invited but wouldn’t have gone regardless. “I can tell you If I were invited I would have declined. Because I think 700 people at an event like that is not a good idea,” Baker said. “It’s a judgement call all the way around, but that’s the beauty of judgement calls. We can all make our own decision about what we think is most appropriate to us.”

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