House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she was set up by a San Francisco salon where she was videotaped not wearing a face mask after getting her hair washed, in violation of the city’s coronavirus restrictions.
“This salon owes me an apology,” Pelosi said in response to questions from reporters at the end of a news conference on the Democrats' proposed coronavirus relief act that is stalled in the Senate.
"It was clearly a setup," she said. "I take responsibility for falling for a setup by a neighborhood salon I’ve gone to for many years.”
The eSalon's owner, Erica Kious, denied Pelosi's claim. She said that her salon had been closed for months because of the pandemic and that she found Pelosi's remarks "hurtful."
"I just thought about, you know, my staff and people not being able to work and make money and provide for their families. And if she's in there comfortably, without a mask and feeling safe, then why are we shut down?" Kious told Fox News' Tucker Carlson on Wednesday evening.
Less than two hours later, Jonathan DeNardo, the stylist who blew out Pelosi's hair, released a statement through an attorney contradicting Kious.
The statement says the law firm is in possession of photographs and videotape that show that Kious has been operating her salon in violation of state and local restrictions since April. The statement also says that Kious authorized Pelosi coming to the salon for her blow-out, and that she was critical of the House speaker because she erroneously believed Pelosi was behind the restrictions that shut down her salon. (The rules were put in place by Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed.)
"Ms. Kious has also been actively encouraging and almost forcing stylists who operate at eSalon to violate such orders for her own financial benefit in the form of receiving lease payments," the statement says. "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 set-up of Speaker Pelosi for her own vain aspirations."
The brouhaha began on Monday, when security camera footage at the eSalon showed Pelosi inside, passing by with wet hair and a mask wrapped around her neck and being trailed by a hair stylist who was wearing a mask. Kious gave the footage to Fox News, which first reported the story Tuesday.
The images prompted a torrent of criticism Wednesday that Pelosi and other Democrats were hypocritical for placing restrictions on Americans that they themselves are unwilling to follow.
President Trump was among the Republicans who weighed in.
“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,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “We will almost certainly take back the House, and send Nancy packing!”
Businesses such as hair salons are subject to a patchwork of regulations in California, depending in part on how severe the coronavirus crisis is in the counties and cities where they are based. In San Francisco, hair salons were not allowed to do any business on Monday, but as of Tuesday they are allowed to offer services outdoors. The state requires Californians to wear face masks outside the home when social distancing isn't possible.
Trump has long showed reluctance to wear a mask and has been seen wearing one in public just a few times. Republicans have routinely flouted public health guidelines aimed at slowing the pandemic, such as when more than 1,500 mostly maskless people crowded on the White House lawn last week to watch the president accept the Republican nomination for a second term.
But political observers say Pelosi getting her hair blown out inside a salon on Monday is a problem nevertheless because her actions contradict her words.
Jessica Levinson, director of Loyola Law School's Public Service Institute, compared the video to a “let them eat cake” moment.
“For all we know she had her mask down for 15 seconds and four feet, but the damage it does is enormous,” Levinson said. “It gives us all this great/horrible visual to look at and say, ‘Nancy Pelosi is an elitist who is totally unconcerned for working people and just cares about how she looks on national TV and Democrats don’t feel your pain.’”
Pelosi said someone at the salon told her they were allowed to accommodate one customer at a time, and that she wore a mask except for when her hair was being washed.
“I just had my hair washed. I don’t wear a mask when I’m washing my hair. Do you wear a mask when you’re washing your hair?” Pelosi said. “And that picture is when I just came out of the bowl.”
A spokesman for Pelosi said that, normally, the House speaker had a stylist come to her house to do her hair, but she wasn’t available on Monday. So the stylist suggested Pelosi’s team contact one of her former colleagues, DeNardo, who rents a chair at eSalon. An assistant to Pelosi called DeNardo on Sunday and asked him if he could come to Pelosi’s house. He said he could but also said the salon was allowed to have customers inside one at a time, so the speaker could come there.
Republicans argued that Pelosi’s violation of city codes showed that she was a hypocrite who felt the rules were above her, and that the restrictions in San Francisco need to be eased.
“It’s the type of hypocrisy you get out of politicians, but the multiple whammies of doing it in her own backyard when she’s literally the most powerful woman in America is really offensive,” said Harmeet Dhillon, a GOP state official who sued California on behalf of hair stylists, nail salons and other businesses shuttered because of the pandemic.
“Every woman in California knows what the law is,” Dhillon said, adding that she had taken to dying her hair and clipping her husband’s hair at their San Francisco home, while friends drove to counties where salons were allowed to operate outdoors.
Some Democrats also warned that the video was ready-made for Trump to exploit. But others argued that this was one instant in the political cycle that would be quickly subsumed by the next viral moment.
“In the culture wars where everyone’s hypersensitive to any transgression on either side, I can see this fitting into a narrative that Democrats want a different set of rules for themselves. But it’s one haircut. It’s not going to have a huge impact on the election,” said Rose Kapolczynski, longtime advisor to former Sen. Barbara Boxer. She added that Pelosi was a role model of mask wearing, particularly compared with Trump and members of his administration.
“And I have to say, Nancy Pelosi has shown wearing a mask can be stylish, too,” Kapolczynski said.