For weeks, the people of San Francisco have been waiting for local restrictions to lift so they could return to their routine hair colouring, trims and blowouts. One person, it turned out, did not have to wait.
On Monday, a day before salons were due to reopen to outdoor services, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was filmed on security cameras walking through the city’s eSalon, her hair freshly washed, with no mask. The scene was aired on Fox News the next day and quickly set off a firestorm.
Ms Pelosi has been a fierce critic of President Donald Trump’s response to coronavirus, including his reluctance to wear a mask. She has suggested that he and his party are to blame for the extended economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
Republicans have used the salon scandal to turn their fire back on Ms Pelosi. At the White House on Thursday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany began her daily briefing by playing the clip of the mask-less, wet-haired Ms Pelosi traversing the salon on repeat.
“This is typical Washington DC,” Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, told Fox News. “They get on national TV, they preach to the American people that it should be one way, and yet in private, when the cameras are not rolling . . . it shows a very different story.”
“Rules for thee but not for me,” Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican congressman and Trump ally, wrote on Twitter.
On Fox, the salon’s owner, Erica Kious, appeared in an interview, criticising Ms Pelosi for bending the rules for herself while so many entrepreneurs were suffering. “We have been shut down for so long, not just me, but most of the small businesses and I just can’t — it’s a feeling — a feeling of being deflated, helpless and honestly beaten down.”
Ms Pelosi has been unrepentant. At a press conference on Wednesday, she pushed back against criticism she had not been wearing a mask. “Do you wear a mask when you’re washing your hair,” she challenged a reporter. Ms Pelosi alleged that she had been tricked by the salon, saying it had told her that they were allowed to have one customer indoors at a time.
“I think that this salon owes me an apology, for setting me up,” she declared. Mr Trump responded by writing on Twitter that if the hair salon owner had so successfully “set up” Ms Pelosi, “maybe the beauty parlour owner should be running the House of Representatives instead”.
The saga with Ms Pelosi follows similar maelstroms for other politicians accused of demanding one set of quarantine rules for civilians and another set of rules for themselves.
In the UK, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s top adviser, has faced criticism for driving 260 miles to his parents’ country home, at a time when other Britons were being advised to shelter in place.
In Ireland, the EU trade commissioner, the country’s agriculture minister and a senator all announced their resignations after it emerged they had taken part in “golfgate” — an elite 80-person dinner at a golf resort — a violation of the country’s regulations that ban gatherings of more than 50 people.
In New Zealand, the country’s health minister, David Clark, was demoted and later resigned after violating the country’s lockdown restrictions — twice.
In the US, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, came under fire this spring for travelling to her father’s golf resort in New Jersey for Passover at a time when the federal government was advising citizens against discretionary travel.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, Ms Pelosi was criticised for a late-night TV clip filmed from her kitchen where she showed off her gleaming twin Sub-Zero refrigerators, which retail for $25,000 each, and her abundant ice-cream stockpile.
During the 2018-2019 government shutdown, which extended through the Christmas holidays, Ms Pelosi was spotted on vacation with her family at the luxury Fairmont Orchid resort in Hawaii. Ms Pelosi brushed away criticism of the trip from the White House, retorting: “The president may not know this, but Hawaii is part of the United States of America.”
Democratic allies say she will survive the latest firestorm as well.
“You know you are a bad-ass Speaker of the House when desperate people go out of their way to attack you on getting your hair done,” wrote Val Demings, the Democratic congresswoman from Florida, on Twitter.
Other Democrats noted Ms Pelosi frequently played the role of Republican bogeyman but, thus far at least, she had emerged relatively unscathed.
“It’s not an election in this country if Republicans aren’t trying to exploit Speaker Pelosi for political advantage,” Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist said. “It’s rarely if ever worked in the past and just plain silly now.”