White House chief of staff hosted 70-person wedding in Georgia despite COVID-19 restrictions: report

Mark Meadows
Mark Meadows

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the press in Statuary Hall at the Capitol on August 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have publicly downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and failed to acknowledge the value of social distancing measures. One such Republican is White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who — according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution — hosted a “lavish wedding” in Atlanta in May that violated the city and state’s social distancing guidelines.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, has been an aggressive supporter of social distancing in her city and has had some major disagreements with Georgia’s far-right Republican governor, Brian Kemp, over the coronavirus pandemic — which, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has killed more than 1 million people worldwide and over 212,000 people in the United States. Back in May, under Bottoms’ stay-at-home order, gatherings of more than ten people were prohibited in Atlanta — and Georgia had a statewide social distancing order as well at the time. But according to Atlanta Journal Constitution reporters Patricia Murphy and Greg Bluestein, the wedding that Meadows hosted for his daughter had about seven times as many people.

“The wedding took place May 31 at the Biltmore Ballrooms in Midtown Atlanta,” Murphy and Bluestein report. “The 70 or so guests, including U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, donned tuxedos and ball gowns for the indoor affair, but no masks, as Meadows walked his daughter, Haley, down the aisle through a path of soft white flower petals. With crystal chandeliers, marble floors and a frame of soaring Roman arches, the lush scene could have come from any wedding magazine — were it not taking place at the height of a global pandemic.”

During the summer months, Kemp was criticized by many Democrats, including Bottoms, for being too quick to ease Georgia’s coronavirus restrictions. But according to Murphy and Bluestein, Kemp’s statewide coronavirus restrictions were still in place when Meadows hosted that wedding.

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“Although the state of Georgia had loosened some restrictions by the end of May,” Murphy and Bluestein explain, “Gov. Brian Kemp’s orders at the time expressly banned gatherings of more than 10 people. The statewide order in effect — which Kemp signed on May 12 — restricted gatherings of more than 10 people so long as they’re not ‘transitory or incidental,’ or spread out across different locations.”

The reporters note that “pictures of the wedding reviewed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution show groups of people clustered closely together in the same room throughout the evening. Under that emergency order, law enforcement could have potentially written citations to the venue for exceeding the gathering size.”

Five months later, Murphy and Bluestein point out, Meadows is facing “intense criticism” for his leadership during the outbreak of COVID-19 infections plaguing the White House — and for a September 26 ceremony for Judge Amy

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Times Square Olive Garden losing $300G each week because of coronavirus restrictions

Olive Garden is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every week from just one location in New York City because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Times Square Olive Garden typically brings in $15 million a year, but now it’s losing $300,000 a week. That’s because of state restrictions on indoor dining, said Gene Lee, the CEO of Olive Garden’s parent company Darden Restaurants, on a Thursday call to investors.

“We start every single week $300,000 in the hole from a comp store basis,” Lee said about the Times Square location.

In fact, he said that location alone is costing the chain “50 basis points in comps.”

The Olive Garden in Times Square is losing $300,000 a week because of restrictions on indoor dining, Darden Restaurants CEO Gene Lee said Thursday. (Google Maps)

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“That’s our best restaurant in the Olive Garden system,” he said. “We do over $15 million there and now we’re doing, you know, $2,500 a day.”

On Thursday, Darden Restaurants reported that Olive Garden’s same-restaurant sales were down 28.2 percent.

The Olive Garden locations that performed better during the quarter were restaurants that were allowed to offer indoor dining, Lee said.

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“Overall, capacity restrictions continue to limit their top-line sales, particularly in key high-volume markets like California and New Jersey, where dining rooms were closed for the majority of the quarter,” Lee said. “In fact, restaurants that had some level of dining room capacity for the entire quarter averaged more than $75,000 in weekly sales, retaining nearly 80 percent of their last year’s sales.”

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DRI DARDEN RESTAURANTS INC. 97.31 +7.31 +8.12%

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Olive Garden isn’t the only restaurant to be negatively impacted by capacity restrictions on indoor dining. Earlier this week, a study from the NYC Hospitality Alliance found that 87 percent of restaurants, bars and nightclubs in New York City were unable to pay their full rent in August.

“Even before the pandemic when operating at 100 percent occupancy, these small businesses were struggling to stay open,” Andrew Rigie, the NYC Hospitality Alliance executive director, said in a statement.

“Now we’re seeing widespread closures, approximately 150,000 industry workers are still out of their jobs, and the overwhelming majority of these remaining small businesses cannot afford to pay rent,” Rigie added.

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However, restaurants in the city — including the Times Square Olive Garden — will be allowed to reopen for indoor dining at 25 percent capacity starting on Sept. 30.

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White House virus adviser backs Louisiana’s restrictions

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The White House’s coronavirus response coordinator Wednesday hailed Gov. John Bel Edwards’ COVID-19 restrictions as helping to save lives, giving the Democratic governor a boost on the eve of a special session where Republican lawmakers will work to strip some of those regulations.

Dr. Deborah Birx applauded Edwards’ leadership in responding to Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak, which surged in the New Orleans area in March and then statewide in June and July. She described the statewide mask mandate, limitations on bars and other restrictions as appropriate to combat the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.

“Louisiana made changes that saved people’s lives, both in the March/April timeframe in New Orleans and in the summer post-Memorial Day surge throughout the state,” Birx said.

She added: “We’ve learned that masks work. We’ve learned that restrictions on indoor dining work. We’ve learned that closing bars at a time of high transmission definitely works.”

The White House official spoke with reporters at Louisiana State University, after holding a closed-door meeting with Edwards, state college system leaders and students. She’s held similar meetings in two dozen other states.

Birx’s comments continued a trend of the Trump administration praising the efforts of Louisiana’s Democratic governor to combat the pandemic, even as many of President Donald Trump’s supporters in the state pan Edwards’ performance.

Louisiana’s majority-Republican Legislature is convening a 30-day special session Monday. At the top of the agenda is a GOP-led effort to try to roll back the governor’s emergency powers and revoke some of his coronavirus restrictions.

Republicans say Edwards has damaged Louisiana’s economy and businesses through regulations he’s enacted since mid-March. The governor said he’s trying to allow businesses to operate while also controlling an outbreak that has killed 5,225 people in Louisiana, according to the state health department’s latest figures Wednesday.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Republican from Ascension Parish, described “what many see as an imbalance of power” in the governor’s emergency authority and pledged that the “special session will not end without a solution to this problem.”

It’s unclear what sorts of limits on the governor’s power lawmakers will propose.

GOP Senate President Page Cortez, of Lafayette, said legislators want the ability to weigh in on the response when an emergency extends for months.

“I believe that the governor needs to be able to declare an emergency and have the authority to be nimble enough to operate within that emergency. But at a certain point, when the emergency becomes so extended, the policymaking body should be involved in those conversations,” Cortez said.

Edwards loosened restrictions earlier this month, allowing restaurants, churches, gyms and other businesses to operate at 75% of their capacity, agreeing to resume high school football and authorizing LSU to have 25,000 fans in Tiger Stadium for football games.

But he’s maintained tight limits on bars, keeping them to takeout and delivery sales only unless they operate in a parish that has recently seen low percentages of coronavirus tests returning positive. He’s also

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L.A. County restrictions on indoor shopping centers are unjust, mall lawsuit alleges

The operator of a sports apparel store in Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance has filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County in an effort to ease countywide restrictions on operating businesses in indoor malls during the COVID-19 pandemic.



a store inside of a building: The Pro Image Sports store in Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance sells sports apparel. (Daisy Rivas / Pro Image Sports)


© (Daisy Rivas / Pro Image Sports)
The Pro Image Sports store in Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance sells sports apparel. (Daisy Rivas / Pro Image Sports)

Also objecting to the limits is the largest owner of indoor malls in the county, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, which called the county’s restrictions that are now stricter than state guidelines an “undue hardship” on the company and its store tenants.

In a proposed class-action lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the owner of Rivas Sports Inc. said it was unfair for the county to shutter “nonessential” businesses like hers that have their front doors inside of an enclosed mall.

Stores in shopping centers that have their own doors to the outside can still operate under safety guidelines issued by the county in May as pandemic-related restrictions on businesses were eased. Interior mall stores were allowed to operate at 50% occupancy until they were closed by the state in July as infections surged.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug. 28 unveiled a plan that allowed Los Angeles County to reopen stores and malls at 25% capacity, but county officials opted to keep most stores inside malls closed. Hair and nail salons can reopen countywide with limited service.

Rivas Sports owner Daisy Rivas said she is willing to follow the state rules, which would mean allowing only eight customers at a time inside her Pro Image Sports shop at Del Amo Fashion Center.

“We have operated safely and followed the government guidelines to the letter of the law, and we are prepared to be fully compliant” with Newsom’s guidance, Rivas said. “Yet without a single word of explanation by the county, they continue to shut us down. We and many other small businesses need our stores open in order to survive.”

The lawsuit was filed by Rivas on behalf of other retailers together with the owner and manager of Del Amo Fashion Center, an affiliate of Simon Property Group. Indianapolis-based Simon is one of the largest mall operators in the country.



A handful of people shop at the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance on Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020, after officials had cautioned the public to keep a safe distance from other people to avoid infections of COVID-19. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)


© (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A handful of people shop at the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance on Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020, after officials had cautioned the public to keep a safe distance from other people to avoid infections of COVID-19. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“This blatantly unconstitutional act prevents interior mall stores from operating, crushing their businesses, denying their employees of their livelihoods, and laying waste to their businesses,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint filed with the court.

The county’s public information office said it would not comment on pending litigation, but released this statement:

“From the onset of the pandemic, Los Angeles County has been intensely committed to protecting

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WH cites 1st Amendment in defending Trump rallies that flout COVID restrictions

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s crowded rallies that contradict local COVID-19 rules and his own administration’s health guidance — saying supporters are exercising their First Amendment rights.



a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Smith Reynolds Regional Airport in Winston-Salem, N.C., Sept. 8, 2020.


© Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Smith Reynolds Regional Airport in Winston-Salem, N.C., Sept. 8, 2020.

She argued there is a double-standard when it comes to allowing crowds at protests — hours before the Trump campaign announced airport hangar rallies in Nevada planned for this weekend have been cancelled.

After touting the president’s coronavirus response in North Carolina, a reporter asked McEnany at an afternoon White House briefing why the president chose to host a rally there with thousands of people, many not wearing masks, on Tuesday night when the state has limited its outdoor gatherings to 50 people and mandated masks in public.

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“People have a First Amendment right if they so choose to show up and express their political opinion in the form of a peaceful protest which is what the president has held and there is a real double standard here,” McEnany said.



a person holding a sign: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 9, 2020.


© Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 9, 2020.

“CNN had on a guest, apparently a doctor, Rob Davidson, who said, ‘Now, true, there are social distancing issues with regard to the protests around the country. However, this is a public health crisis. They are marching against systemic racism.’ So if you’re allowed to march in aggregate in those protests, you are also allowed to show up at a political rally. You have a First Amendment right in this country,” she continued.

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Shortly after the briefing, the Trump campaign announced its airport hangar rallies scheduled in Nevada this weekend had been cancelled, which presumably would have flouted the state’s COVID-19 restrictions limiting public gatherings to 50 people, and said that Trump would instead still hold other events in the state.

The Trump campaign said 15,000 supporters showed up at its airport-hanger rally on Tuesday night, and most attendees were packed together and not wearing masks, despite the state’s restrictions that outdoor gathering shouldn’t exceed 50 persons.

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The White House coronavirus task force recently identified North Carolina as having the 18th highest rate of cases in the U.S. and recommended enforced social distancing and mask mandates — but McEnany vehemently defended the gathering on Wednesday.

“If people want to show up and express their political views, that’s their choice to do so. We hand out masks, we encourage the individuals to wear those masks. A lot of people did, I was in North Carolina last night and saw it. We give out hand sanitizer. But at the end of the day, if you want to join a

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