WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul are the latest Democratic leaders to face criticism for not wearing masks in indoor public spaces.
Their maskless social gatherings follow events involving former President Barack Obama, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, among others.
Whether the Democrats’ decisions to go maskless violated COVID protocols or not, their strong advocacy for mask requirements — like others in their party who call for compliance — has sparked questions about whether they live by a different set of rules.
Hochul, who last month expanded a New York school mask mandate to apply to children as young as 2 in day care centers, was pictured recently in a crowded bar without a mask and rooting on the Buffalo Bills during a televised game against the Tennessee Titans. This week, she again appeared maskless, tweeting a group picture with Broadway stage stars, prompting angry responses from parents.
Meanwhile, Biden and first lady Jill Biden were caught on camera walking through an upscale Washington restaurant, Fiola Mare, on Oct. 16 with masks in hand but not over their faces.
All three incidents sparked an outcry on social media.
In the Bidens’ case, the first couple were in apparent violation of District of Columbia regulations about mask use indoors. The D.C. regulations require everyone, even those fully vaccinated, to wear masks in indoor public settings like a restaurant when not eating or drinking.
Asked about the president’s lapse at a recent White House briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted that “there are moments when we all don’t put masks on as quickly as we should.”
This year, Biden criticized maskless Republican lawmakers, saying “It’s time to grow up.” It’s part of a larger political tug-of-war between blue states such as New York and California and red states like Florida and Texas over federal vaccination mandates and mask guidance and whether they constitute a violation of individual rights.
Biden has singled out Republican governors in those states for not following health experts on vaccinations and not requiring masks.
Despite the faux pas, Psaki said it should not distract from the constant drumbeat of the president’s message.
“I don’t think we should lose — miss — lose the forest through the trees here in that our objective here is to get more people vaccinated,” she said.
Biden has been vaccinated and dons masks at White House events.
Hochul apparently did not run afoul of her state’s regulations, which recommend but do not require that vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors. A request for comment from the governor’s office was not returned.
Other Democratic officials have flouted mask mandates. Leaked photos from Obama’s 60th birthday party in August on Martha’s Vineyard showed the former president and guests partying amid the COVID delta wave without masks. In May, Whitmer violated her own social distancing rules while dining at a restaurant. She subsequently apologized.
Last year, Newsom attended a birthday party for one of his advisers at an exclusive California restaurant, against state guidance on large gatherings. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited a hair salon in San Francisco last year without a mask, in violation of city rules.
Mask guidance has become a political lightning rod. Former President Donald Trump refused to wear a mask despite guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when the pandemic first swept across the country. Trump also repeatedly mocked Biden for wearing a mask during the presidential campaign.
Many Republicans have continued to shun masks and to crusade against mask mandates. And some have used what they call Democrats’ hypocrisy to make their point. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, used Obama’s birthday party to point out what he called a double standard.
“Just so we’re all clear,” Jordan tweeted. “#COVID19 spreads at: -Church -School -Trump rallies -Motorcycle rallies. It doesn’t spread at: -“Peaceful” protests -The southern border -Democrat wedding receptions -San Francisco hair salons -Governor Newsom’s dinner -President Obama’s birthday party.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response coordinator under Trump, told a House select subcommittee this month that the Trump administration response to the pandemic was slow and resulted in lives lost.
Birx told the committee in testimony released Tuesday that more than 130,000 lives could have been saved if the Trump administration had aggressively followed proposals from public health experts, including mask guidance.
“I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities in the 30 percent to 40 percent less range,” Birx said.
Her testimony was released by the subcommittee headed by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who also serves as House Democratic whip.
The Biden mask flap at the Washington restaurant comes as jurisdictions around the nation’s capital are relaxing their mask guidelines because of high rates of vaccinations.
Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the largest suburbs outside Washington, announced on Wednesday that a mask mandate for indoor venues and restaurants no longer would be enforced thanks to high vaccination rates in the jurisdiction, which is home to large numbers of federal workers and contractors.
Contact Gary Martin at email@example.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.