House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is facing intense public scrutiny after a video was leaked showing Pelosi getting her hair styled inside a San Francisco salon on Monday, a violation of the city’s current COVID-19 safety regulations. In surveillance footage the salon owner shared with Fox News, Pelosi, who has been consistently vocal about the importance of wearing a face covering in public, is seen with her mask around her neck after having her hair washed inside of the salon. Now, Pelosi is claiming she was set up.
This past Tuesday, the day after Pelosi got her hair styled at eSalon in San Francisco, Fox News broke the story, running the footage and quoting eSalon’s owner, Erica Kious, who called the speaker's visit a “double standard” and a “slap in the face” considering that hairdressers in the city have been unable to work for nearly six months.
The official regulations governing salon business in San Francisco are confusing. Just this week — on Tuesday, the day after Pelosi had her hair done — new city regulations went into effect permitting San Francisco hairdressers to offer services outdoors, provided everyone wears a mask. Still, as it stands, salon services are not allowed to take place indoors.
According to Pelosi’s spokesperson, Drew Hammill, the visit to San Francisco's eSalon was not part of the speaker's original plan. Hammill told reporters that normally Pelosi has a hairstylist come to her own home, but her regular stylist was reportedly unavailable and suggested a former colleague, Jonathan DeNardo, take the appointment instead. Reportedly, DeNardo then told Pelosi and her staff that eSalon, where he rents a chair, allowed clients inside, one at a time. Hammill acknowledged that Pelosi and her team relied on the salon’s interpretation of the city's regulations, which turned out to be incorrect.
"The speaker always wears a mask and complies with local COVID requirements," Hammill told the Washington Post on Tuesday. In fact, according to Hammill, Pelosi wore her mask the entire time she was inside eSalon, and only took it down briefly while getting her hair washed (when she was subsequently caught on camera). "This business offered for the speaker to come in on Monday and told her they were allowed by the city to have one customer at a time in the business. The speaker complied with the rules as presented by this establishment."
Whatever the rationale, once the footage of Pelosi was leaked to Fox News, the damage was done. Critics — particularly Republicans — quickly accused Pelosi of hypocrisy, saying that Democrats have placed public-health restrictions on American citizens, but which they themselves disregard.
Even President Donald Trump tweeted about the incident, writing, “Crazy Nancy Pelosi is being decimated for having a beauty parlor opened, when all others are closed, and for not wearing a mask — despite constantly lecturing everyone else. We will almost certainly take back the House, and send Nancy packing!" Trump wasn't the only member of his party to attack the Speaker. In a statement, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Michael McAdams told NBC, "Nancy Pelosi is all too happy to blow off suffering Americans to get a $85 blow-out." White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany played the video on a loop during today's press briefing.
After the initial story ran, Fox News invited Kious to speak on air with Tucker Carlson and give her reasoning for sharing the footage. "I just thought about, you know, my staff and people not being able to work and make money and provide for their families," Kious explained. "And if she’s in there comfortably, without a mask and feeling safe, then why are we shut down?" Further complicating where the onus falls, Kious claimed that because independent stylists, like DeNardo, rent chairs at her salon, she can't police their clientele.
DeNardo then released a statement through an attorney contradicting Kious's claims. The statement alleges that the law firm has photographs and video footage proving that Kious has been operating her salon since April, thereby violating California's coronavirus restrictions. The statement also says that Kious gave permission for DeNardo to style Pelosi’s hair in the salon. "Ms. Kious has been actively encouraging, and almost forcing, stylists who operate at eSalon to violate such orders for her own financial benefit," the statement reads. "The fact that Ms. Kious is now objecting to Speaker Pelosi’s presence at eSalon, and from a simple surface-level review of Ms. Kious’ political leanings, it appears Ms. Kious is furthering a setup of Speaker Pelosi for her own vain aspirations.”
At a news conference held on Wednesday, Pelosi admitted that she made a mistake by trusting the salon, where she claims to be a regular patron. “This salon owes me an apology,” said Pelosi. "It was clearly a setup. I take responsibility for falling for a setup by a neighborhood salon I’ve gone to for many years."
Whether or not it was a setup, Pelosi’s actions do contradict her no-nonsense messaging. She has repeatedly called out Republicans for not adhering to safety protocols. However, the GOP’s criticism also underlines its own blatant hypocrisy. Their words come days after hosting massive rallies where no one was wearing masks. Just last week, Trump hosted 1,500 mask-less guests at the White House South Lawn for his nominating speech at the Republican National Convention. During the speech, guests sat in chairs less than 6-feet apart.
One could argue that Pelosi should have done more research into California's salon regulations before booking a hair appointment when she was unable to work with her usual stylist on a house call. There are missteps and double standards on both sides, but there is something to be said for the intention behind each. It doesn't appear that Pelosi was consciously flouting safety regulations — even if she should have known better. It's hard to say the same for the president, who invited 1,500 guests to his RNC speech, and whose leadership (or lack thereof) has contributed to a public health crisis resulting in over 186,000 deaths.