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Robert O'Brien speaks during a visit to Brazil in October. Photo: Andressa Anholete/Getty Images

National security adviser Robert O'Brien is taking his wife on a holiday tour of the romantic Mediterranean and European capitals, including seeking a private tour of the Louvre despite it being closed because of coronavirus restrictions, people familiar with the trip tell Axios.

Why it matters: The White House announced the Paris stop shortly after an inquiry from Axios, but the entirety of the trip — which also includes stops in Tel Aviv, Rome and London — is causing consternation among O'Brien's hosts and questions about the need for his wife to tag along.

The White House announced Sunday that O'Brien would be traveling to Paris on Monday to lead a U.S. delegation to the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Convention. The release did not detail that O'Brien's wife, Lo-Mari, would be joining him.

  • “While we don’t comment on spousal travel on specific trips, anytime Ambassador O’Brien has his wife on official trips, any associated costs for her travel are paid for by Ambassador O’Brien and there is no additional cost to taxpayers," National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot told Axios.
  • An OECD release said many of the other event participants would speak virtually, due to COVID-19 fears. O'Brien is slotted to speak on behalf of the United States among heads of state including Angela Merkel of Germany and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. French President Emmanuel Macron will appear in person.

One overseas diplomat told Axios the spousal travel is disheartening because government employees have to shepherd the visitors, and every additional person is a COVID-19 risk.

  • The average American currently is banned from traveling to France. Those already there are supposed to leave their homes only for work or grocery shopping. On Tuesday, the day O'Brien leaves Paris, the country begins an 8 p.m. curfew.
  • The visit also comes as the U.S. government faces a potential Dec. 18 shutdown, and as the Trump administration has under 40 days remaining in its term.

Flashback: Governments in Budapest, London and Paris, as well as U.S. diplomats, expressed alarm this fall after the State Department's director of policy planning tested positive for COVID-19 following his own in-person visit to Europe.

Editor's note: Corrects that O'Brien will address OSCE meeting on Monday, instead of Tuesday.

Go deeper

Updated 21 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Americans shrug off Omicron, Axios-Ipsos poll finds — CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise."
  2. Vaccines: Omicron gives a shot to boosters — U.S. announces $400M for global COVID vaccine distribution — Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles down.
  3. States: Gov. Hochul will order some NY hospitals to halt elective surgeries — Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers.
  4. World: EU drug regulator backs mixing COVID vaccines — Poor global equity likely in COVID pill access — CDC raises travel advisories for France, Portugal to highest level amid COVID surge.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Updated Dec 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

U.S. officials prioritized to receive COVID vaccine

UPS employees move shipping containers of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, on Dec. 13. Photo: Michael Clevenger - Pool/Getty Images

Coronavirus vaccinations for U.S. officials across the country's three branches of government have been given top priority, National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said in a statement on Sunday.

Why it matters: There are a limited number of COVID vaccines currently in production, and the CDC recommends that the highest-risk groups — health care workers and long-term care facility residents — should be first in line to get vaccinated.

13 mins ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.