The Capitol Hill Club, home to DC’s most high-profile Republicans since the 1950s, is on thin ice with its conservative members.
Cockburn, who has enjoyed many a cocktail inside the oak-lined walls of the club, is hearing that Republican members of Congress are incensed at the Capitol Hill Club for complying with DC mayor Muriel Bowser’s vaccine mandate. As of January 15, DC restaurant and entertainment venues are required to check that all of their patrons are fully vaccinated.
According to a GOP insider, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise warned the Republican conference at a meeting last week that members should not go to the Capitol Hill Club if they are not prepared to show their papers. In essence, comply or be quiet.
Republicans who have been to the Capitol Hill Club since the vaccine mandate took effect say the venue is going well beyond simple enforcement. One source tells Cockburn that multiple members of Congress who showed up for an event this week walked out after being relentlessly harassed for their vaccine cards. The source noted that both private security and Capitol Police were on site, and likened the enforcement measures to a hostile TSA security checkpoint. The Capitol Hill Club also refused to acknowledge religious exemptions to the mandate, despite previously stating that they would.
Naturally, some party members were not content to take Scalise’s advice and keep calm and carry on. Florida representative Matt Gaetz announced Tuesday that he would be canceling his membership to the club over its enforcement of the vaccine mandate.
“Republican organizations in the Nation’s Capital have the duty to be pillars of the values we fight for,” Gaetz said. “As a result of their compliance requiring vax papers for entry, I am canceling my membership at the Capitol Hill Club.”
The vaccine mandate drama is not the only scandal affecting the Capitol Hill Club’s favor among Republicans. On Tuesday night, the Jefferson Society held an event featuring former Trump administration officials and members of Congress. The guest list included former acting defense secretary Christopher Miller, his chief of staff Kash Patel, former secretary of energy Dan Brouillette, and former acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker.
Things got awkward, Cockburn hears, when attendees discovered that more than a dozen officials from Chinese technology firm Huawei were meeting right next door.
Whitaker was notably behind the 2018 arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada on fraud charges. The arrest sparked an international incident, with China detaining two Canadian citizens in retaliation. The DOJ sought to extradite Meng to the United States, but a deal was eventually struck under the Biden administration in September to drop charges against Meng. China released the Canadians hours after the deal was reached.
Whitaker went after Huawei again in 2019, announcing criminal charges against the company on allegations that Huawei engaged in corporate espionage and intellectual property theft and lied about its compliance with Iran sanctions.
Several speakers and attendees at the Jefferson Society event, a source claims, left early in protest of Huawei’s official presence at the club. Cockburn finds it odd that the Capitol Hill Club, with its seventy-plus years in the hospitality industry, didn’t know better than to put America First conservatives in a room adjacent to the shady Chinese firm they’ve been after for years.
So is this storied institution in trouble after alienating its Republican regulars? Only time will tell, but Cockburn sure hopes to see some of his old friends sneaking into Shelly’s Backroom or onto the Morton’s patio while the Capitol Hill Club is still gauche.
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Update 1/24, 5:30 p.m. ET: Cockburn is told that while Kelley Drye consultants such as former Nebraska congressman Lee Terry were in attendance at the Huawei event, the lobbying firm was not a host.
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