Rep. Kevin McCarthy attended his son’s wedding in California amid deadly COVID-19 surge
Early in the morning on Dec. 5, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy mockingly alluded on Facebook to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s widely criticized attendance at a party the month before at the exclusive French Laundry restaurant, a maskless gathering that drew accusations of hypocrisy and elitism.
But hours after publishing his post, McCarthy attended his own maskless gathering — a wedding for his son, Connor, who got married that afternoon at a venue in San Luis Obispo County, The Times has learned. The event appeared to flout longstanding state COVID-19 rules that prohibit wedding receptions and require that masks be worn during wedding ceremonies.
The wedding took place on the day that California announced a forthcoming stay-at-home order for the southern half of the state where the virus was raging and available intensive care unit beds were alarmingly low. The order went into effect the next night, including in San Luis Obispo County.
Two videos of the outdoor nuptials at the Cass House in Cayucos show that the dozen or so attendees visible in the images were not wearing masks, the Republican congressman from Bakersfield included. The videos also showed attendees inside a building while wearing no masks — among them the bride, who is filmed getting her hair combed and sprayed (the stylist in the shot is wearing a mask).
In one of the videos, the tuxedoed father of the groom is seen using a microphone to address guests who are off-camera. An invitation to the wedding seen on one of the videos says a celebration would follow.
In response to questions from The Times, McCarthy sent a statement late Wednesday saying that the original plan for a 300-guest wedding was scrapped and that the bride and groom decided to go forward with just parents, grandparents and sisters.
The minority leader’s son’s wedding in San Luis Obispo on Dec. 5 appeared to flout longstanding state COVID-19 rules.
“We took every precaution to ensure a safe celebration — starting with just 13 family members,” the statement said. “We spent the majority of the time outside with the dinner following the ceremony in an almost completely open area. We wore masks indoors that day, except in those instances where some had to let makeup dry or when we were eating.”
His statement said lockdown orders had been “devastating to families, small businesses, and communities.”
“As everyone knows, navigating our lives during this time is challenging. Events that were tedious to plan to begin with, have become even more so. But I’ve always fought for people — not the government — to make the decisions that are right for them and their loved ones.”
McCarthy said he had spent months “calling to end the dangerous and arbitrary lockdown orders from Sacramento” and said Democrats “promulgating or advocating for lockdown policies have often ignored these very mandates they are imposing on everyone else.”
While the congressman has slammed state-imposed closures of certain businesses during the pandemic, he has embraced in media interviews the wearing of masks. He has assured the public that his fellow House Republicans would wear masks in the Capitol. In a June interview with Fox News Radio, he endorsed the universal use of face coverings, saying, “Well, every average American, first of all, wash your hands, social distance, and wear a mask. The best thing you can do to start with.”
McCarthy has taken aim at other politicians who have been criticized for ignoring COVID-19 health mandates. Last summer, he joined a chorus of critics who accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) of indulging in an elitist double-standard when she was captured on a security camera without wearing a mask while at a San Francisco salon after getting her hair washed. San Francisco had not yet lifted its order closing salons.
A spokesman said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was complying with the salon’s rules when she made a solo visit on Monday.
At the time, McCarthy said, “Nancy Pelosi doesn’t think the rules apply to her. She thinks she deserves special treatment.”
McCarthy also has taken several shots at Newsom for the party at the French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, which was held for a Sacramento lobbyist. The governor has apologized for his attendance. The debacle has helped fuel a Republican-led recall campaign against him.
In his Dec. 5 Facebook post, McCarthy took aim at House Democrats for allowing remote voting during the pandemic. “For months, House Democrats have used an unconstitutional scheme to allow members to vote from home. It’s called shadow voting. Maybe if we renamed Congress ‘The French Laundry,’ Democrats would show up.”
The Times learned of his son’s wedding this week. McCarthy posted about the wedding on Facebook and Instagram last weekend — two months after the ceremony. On each site, he shared a short video of the ceremony and wrote, “My son married the love of his life in December—and though the wedding was small, the love we have for them could not be bigger.”
“Turned commenting off on this one,” his Instagram post says. “It’s a politics-free post!”
In his statement on Wednesday, McCarthy said he waited to post news about the wedding until the video was ready.
A second video was posted in December on the Facebook page of a company that films weddings. That post listed other vendors for the ceremony, including a Paso Robles restaurant and a Cass House bakery.
Traci Hozie, owner of the Cass House, said that after the pandemic started all the other wedding party clients the venue had lined up decided to cancel or move their events to the next year. The McCarthy wedding was the only event that went forward, she said.
Hozie said that there was a “family dinner” after the wedding ceremony at a covered outdoor pavilion that had screens on the sides.
“We felt very comfortable that we could meet all the restrictions and guidelines and keep everyone safe,” Hozie said.
Eric Connolly, owner of the Hatch Rotisserie & Bar, which catered the event, said he didn’t think more than 15 people attended the wedding. He said that all food was served outdoors.
“It was a pretty well-run, COVID-conscious event for sure,” Connolly said.
Under state rules in place in San Luis Obispo County on Dec. 5, outdoor wedding ceremonies were allowed, but receptions or celebrations — either outdoor or indoor — were banned. People in California were — and still are — under orders to wear face coverings when outside of the home, although some exceptions include when outdoors and maintaining at least six feet of distance from others not in their household.
State guidelines for religious services and cultural ceremonies, which include wedding ceremonies whether they take place at a religious venue or not, said key prevention practices included use of face coverings.
McCarthy’s district encompasses most of Kern and Tulare counties and a small portion of L.A. County, three of the hardest hit counties in California. L.A. County has the sixth-worst cumulative coronavirus case rate in California, Kern County the seventh-worst and Tulare County the ninth-worst.
The wedding took place even as it was clear California was careening toward a COVID-19 crisis far worse than any point in the pandemic, with federal, state and local officials pleading since before Thanksgiving that people cancel travel plans.
Starting Sunday at 11:59 p.m., 84% of California’s population will be under new regional stay-at-home restrictions as hospitals’ ICU capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley plummets.
Officials began detecting the early signs of a surge in late October, and it became particularly problematic by early November. By Halloween, California was recording an average of about 4,000 coronavirus cases a day over the previous week; by the wedding day, the state had hit 19,000 cases a day.
In the weeks before the wedding, officials across California urged the public to stay home and cancel all nonessential gatherings.
On Nov. 13, California issued a travel advisory, urging people to avoid nonessential out-of-state travel, and asked that those who arrived from another state or country self-quarantine for 14 days.
On Dec. 3, Newsom issued a new statewide order that would impose a regional stay-at-home order as soon as Dec. 6 in regions where available ICU capacity fell to critical levels.
On the same day the governor announced his new order, the San Luis Obispo County health officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein, warned that the stay-at-home order was imminent. “For those who may be thinking, ‘What more can I do?’, it is the same things that I have been saying over and over again. Don’t mix. Don’t mingle. Keep your activities limited to your household, to one or two other families, if you must,” she said, according to a county transcript.
By the evening before the McCarthy wedding, it was clear that the southern swath of California, which includes San Luis Obispo County, was headed toward a stay-at-home order, with available ICU capacity already calculated at a critical shortage. The stay-at-home order was formalized on Dec. 5, the same day of the wedding, and went into effect on the evening of Dec. 6.
Times researcher Scott J. Wilson contributed to this report.
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