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Gridiron Dinner canceled over coronavirus concerns in D.C.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., was among those set to attend the Gridiron Club Dinner.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., was among those set to attend the Gridiron Club Dinner. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Corrected, 7:36 p.m. | The Gridiron Club and Foundation has called off its dinner this year due to coronavirus concerns, organizers announced Tuesday.

“We canceled the dinner because we didn’t want to put people at risk,” said the group’s president, Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The event was set for Saturday. Hosted by an invitation-only club of the Washington journalism establishment, the annual dinner attracts media executives, lawmakers and administration officials. It’s been a sought-after ticket on the D.C. social circuit for over 130 years.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York was supposed to speak this year on the Republican side, with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado representing Democrats. From the White House, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien was due to speak, according to Gilbert.

“We took into account the concerns of members and guests, and the guidance of health experts about avoiding large social gatherings,” Gilbert told Heard on the Hill in an email. 

Last year, Sens. John Kennedy and Amy Klobuchar headlined. Both have been known to crack a quip or two in the course of their work in the Senate.

Such a move is rare but not unprecedented, Gridiron historian George Condon said in a statement.

“In its history, the Club has canceled two dinners, both well in advance,” said Condon, a correspondent at National Journal.

Those two cancellations came in 1918 and 1942, in the midst of world wars, he said.

According to Condon’s statement, “The flu pandemic lasted from January 1918 to December 1920. The Club did not hold its usual allotment of dinners in that time, but not because of the flu. As was the case in World War II, the U.S., participation in World War I curtailed the dinners. The Club had a big patriotic dinner Dec. 8, 1917 with President Wilson and a large number of allied ambassadors. Then it voted to hold no dinners in 1918 because of the war. It did continue to have other outings, but no dinners where the president was invited. Club records give no reason for the lack of dinners immediately after the war ended in November 1918 or early in 1919. The first big dinner was on Dec. 13, 1919, described as quite patriotic.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the timings for certain Gridiron dinners in the early part of the 20th century.

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