Pompeo's dinners come under scrutiny, all 50 states reopen and restaurants reimagine eating out

States face backlash, worker shortages as they ramp up contact tracing efforts.
Image: Customers buy up stocks of wine, food and kitchen supplies as the restaurant Montmartre closes due to the coronavirus outbreak in Washington
Customers buy up stocks of wine, food and kitchen supplies as the French restaurant Montmartre closes after 20 years of operation on Capitol Hill due to financial pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Washington on Tuesday. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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By Petra Cahill

Good morning, NBC News readers.

A series of elaborate dinners at the State Department that were hosted by Mike Pompeo and his wife, but paid for by American taxpayers, are coming under scrutiny.

Here's what we're watching this Wednesday morning.


Exclusive: Pompeo's elite taxpayer-funded dinners set off alarm bells in the State Department

As federal workers file out of the State Department at the end of a Washington workday, an elite group is often just arriving in the marbled, flag-lined lobby: Billionaire CEOs, Supreme Court justices, political heavyweights and ambassadors arrive in evening attire as they’re escorted by private elevator to dinner with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Until the coronavirus shut them down in March, the gatherings were known as "Madison Dinners"— elaborate, unpublicized affairs that Pompeo and his wife began in 2018 and held regularly in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the government's dime.

State Department officials involved in the dinners said they raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor Rolodex for Pompeo if he runs for office again.

Steve Linick, who was abruptly fired Friday evening as the State Department's inspector general, was investigating whether Pompeo made a political appointee carry out personal errands.

It's unclear whether the inspector general was also investigating the Madison Dinners. But two administration officials told NBC News that Linick made some type of inquiry to the protocol office, which runs the dinners, last week, before he was fired.

Linick was also investigating Pompeo's decision to approve a Saudi arms deal.


All 50 states have reopened, but rules vary greatly

All 50 American states will have reopened in some way as of Wednesday, more than two months since the coronavirus pandemic shut down huge swaths of the economy.

But, restrictions still in place vary greatly. Connecticut is one of the last states to reopen with its stay-at-home order just lifted as of today. Check out our state guide to see the latest guidelines for your state.

As the states reopen, public health officials say efforts to ramp up contact tracing to prevent future flare-ups have been hobbled by obstacles.


Coronavirus already threatened some health workers' lives. Now they face violence.

As Dr. Trupti Katdare and her colleague, Dr, Zakia Sayyed, traced the contacts of a patient who had tested positive for the coronavirus, a mob set upon them, yelling and throwing stones.

"It was very scary," Katdare said of the incident, which took place April 1 in the Indian city of Indore. "We didn't understand what was happening. We were going to save their lives. What are they thinking?"

While doctors and nurses fighting the pandemic have been celebrated around the world, some have become the targets of attacks fueled by fear and misinformation.


Greenhouses, mannequins and hand sanitizer: Restaurants reimagine dining out

As restaurateurs seek to attract customers, the use of formerly enticing words such as "intimate," "cozy" and maybe even "atmospheric" may fall by the wayside.

They'll likely be replaced by words such as "bright," "clean," "spacious" and — who knows? — maybe even "sterile."

Not the most romantic of words, but restaurateurs around the world are on a quest to convince customers it's safe to eat out.


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Plus


THINK about it

Here's how Republicans hope to turn a Biden conspiracy theory into 2020's Benghazi, THINK contributor Kurt Bardella writes in an opinion piece.


BETTER TODAY

Grocery prices are on the rise — here are 6 ways to keep your food budget under control.


Shopping

Memorial Day Weekend is less than a week away — we've compiled the best all-around deals and sales for you to consider through the week and we honed in on some of the best discounts on furniture, appliances, tech and grills.


Quote of the day

"If you would have told me last year I’d be teaching people how to wear a mask, I would not have believed it."

Nizhoni Hodge, manager of the Coeur d’Alene Casino's guest services program, on the Idaho gambling establishment reopening.


One fun thing

Peas and quiet?

As people shelter in place and worry about the cost and availability of groceries, many have found reassurance and relaxation in the timeless ritual of planting, watering and tending gardens.

"With this lockdown, it's a good opportunity for me," said one newly dedicated gardener. "My plants have all my time right now."

During this time of turbulence, many Americans have found an oasis of calm in their own gardens.Halfpoint / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.

Please send me any comments or questions you have on the newsletter: petra@nbcuni.com

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Be safe and stay healthy, Petra Cahill