Gridiron Dinner, an annual D.C. tradition, canceled over coronavirus concerns

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Nearly every president has attended the event, which includes weeks of rehearsals and costumes for the skits, though presidential attendance at the dinner is less consistent than at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner — in the pre-Trump era, anyway.

Last year’s speakers were Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). Ivanka Trump also gave brief remarks.

The year before that, President Donald Trump attended the white tie confab, where he joked about the prospect of impeachment and his efforts at nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

This year, national security adviser Robert O’Brien was set to speak on the Trump administration’s behalf, while Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet was set to represent Democrats and New York Rep. Elise Stefanik was going to represent Republicans.

The spring dinner, which would have drawn around 600 attendees, has taken place almost every year since 1885, club historian and National Journal White House correspondent George Condon said. Only during World War I in 1918 and World War II in 1942 did the dinner not take place, but Condon said he could find no record of the event ever getting canceled for public health reasons, including during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The dinner is just the latest high-profile event to collide with the viral outbreak, which originated in China late last year and has infected more than 600 people and killed over two dozen in the U.S.

Austin, Texas, announced last week it was canceling South by Southwest, the annual 10-day festival featuring music, film and technology events, after some of the biggest corporate sponsors pulled out over fears about the outbreak. Federal health officials have since begun discouraging at-risk populations, such as the elderly and those with certain underlying health conditions, to avoid flights, cruises and large gatherings, and questions have emerged about wisdom of holding campaign rallies during the election season.

On Tuesday, both Bernie Sanders’ and Joe Biden’s presidential campaigns announced they were canceling rallies in Cleveland, citing concerns over the virus highlighted by Ohio officials.

Just 24 hours earlier, Italy’s prime minister announced nationwide travel restrictions after an explosion of coronavirus cases there.

And late last month, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of announcing it was closing its Muslim holy sites to foreigners traveling there for pilgrimages as the virus gained a foothold in the Middle East.

The widening outbreak has also put the future of this summer’s Olympic Games in jeopardy, with an official on the International Olympic Committee warning that the events are more likely to be canceled than postponed or moved.



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