Democratic figures accused of hypocrisy on COVID-19 precautions
Democratic governors and mayors are being accused of hypocrisy for breaking their own COVID-19 restrictions.
High-profile elected Democratic officials have apologized for embarrassing instances in which they were caught dining indoors, traveling abroad or celebrating political victories in the streets, contrary to their own guidelines for social behavior during the resurgent pandemic.
The transgressions come after Democrats campaigned on being the party of science and personal responsibility in contrast to President Trump, who has downplayed the virus and flouted the advice of his own medical experts.
Democrats who have abided by the rules are irritated over the rule-breakers, worrying it will reinforce stereotypes about liberal elites playing by a different set of rules.
Public health experts, for their part, say that it’s critical for elected officials to practice what they preach, particularly at a time when the death count is rising and the hospital system is straining under the caseload.
“It is very frustrating to see political figures making recommendations that they expect the public to follow but that they themselves do not follow in their personal lives,” said Jeff Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School.
“I can’t imagine anything that would be more likely to undermine the ability of an elected official to gain the public trust. … It undermines that trust and makes it less likely that you’ll be able to effectuate the policies you’re trying to put forward,” he said.
Steve Adler, the Democratic mayor of Austin, Texas, is the latest to be ensnared in controversy after his hometown paper revealed that he had traveled to Mexico on a private plane in early November with a group of family members to celebrate his daughter’s wedding.
Adler filmed a video urging people to “stay home if you can” without revealing that he was at a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas at the time.
Adler released a video statement on Wednesday apologizing, saying that while his trip took place “during a safer period” that it “could lead to some taking riskier behavior now.”
“I need to send a clearer message,” Adler said. “I’m sorry I took that trip. It was a lapse in judgment.”
In November, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) was photographed at a dinner party at the three-star Michelin restaurant French Laundry outside of Napa. The event was a birthday party for one of his top advisers and was attended by several prominent lobbyists for the California Medical Association. None were wearing masks in the photos.
Newsom did not break any laws, but he had been warning Californians not to gather in groups for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The next night, San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) had her own birthday party at the same restaurant.
Newsom and Breed have both apologized, saying they need to live up to a higher standard. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D) also apologized this week for attending a large Thanksgiving gathering.
On Thursday, Newsom announced new regional restrictions across California on nonessential travel and business activity, including at restaurants.
The California governor went out of his way to say that the wealthy and well-connected would not get special treatment when it comes to distributing a vaccine.
“This is the time, if there ever was doubt, to put aside your doubt, to put aside your skepticism, to put aside your cynicism, to put aside your ideology, to put aside any consideration except for this — lives are in the balance,” Newsom said. “I’m not naive about what’s being asked about you. I’m not naive about the stress and pressure you’re under or the impact this has on your dreams.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) has been criticized for celebrating without a mask on in a crowded street after President-elect Joe Biden was declared the likely winner of the White House. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) was also criticized for traveling to Delaware for an election night party for Biden, which she deemed to be “essential travel.”
Biden campaigned on Democrats being the party that took the virus seriously.
The White House has sought to capitalize on the controversies. At a briefing on Wednesday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany played video footage of some of the Democrats who have been caught dining out.
“Quite clearly, these Democrats do not follow their own edicts,” she said. “They act in a way that their own citizens are barred from acting.”
Democrats interviewed by The Hill acknowledge that they have to live up to the higher standards they’ve set for themselves, though they are not interested in criticism from the Trump White House or Republicans, many of whom have talked down the virus and mask wearing, or have not broken any guidelines only because they haven’t imposed them in their own states.
McEnany’s comments came as the White House prepared to hold holiday parties despite the fact that previous events at the building have been blamed for spreading the coronavirus.
“The Democrats doing this are really stepping in it and these are boneheaded mistakes and a failure to lead by example. When you’re in public office, you have a responsibility to go above and beyond,” said Neil Sroka, a progressive strategist. “At the same time, the salacious details around some of these episodes is drowning out how blatantly and brazenly the Republicans have disregarded their own administration’s policy recommendations.”
Indeed, the missteps by officials such as Newsom have received plenty of attention on social media and from traditional media.
Remarks this week by CNN anchor Brianna Keilar might have been more meaningful to Democrats than those from the White House press office.
“The past few weeks brought into relief a pattern of leaders failing to lead by example, asking Americans to make sacrifices that they, themselves, are unwilling to make, and appearing sorry only when they’re caught,” Keilar announced in a segment Thursday about the controversies.