Pelosi’s Dilemma: Her State of the Union Optics Might Hurt Biden’s Message

Posted on Saturday, February 26, 2022
by AMAC Newsline
variant Pelosi state of the union

AMAC Exclusive – by Shane Harris

On Friday, the CDC released new guidance on a number of pandemic restrictions, including masking in indoor settings. While these new recommendations are likely a welcome relief to many pandemic-weary Americans, they may have triggered a political dilemma for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. With the State of the Union just days away on March 1, President Joe Biden desperate to claim some sort of victory over COVID-19, and having already been forced to backtrack on an attendance cap for the event, Pelosi may face added pressure from some Democrats to rescind her mask mandate, even as others in her party remain committed to masking.

It was widely speculated when Biden announced the date for his State of the Union Address that one of the main reasons for the delay (the speech is usually given in January or early February) was the hope that the Omicron surge would have subsided by then. That gamble appears to have paid off, as case numbers are now way down from their peak in late January. However, Biden remains underwater with the public on his handling of the virus, with just 45% of Americans approving of the job he has done on COVID-19. That figure is down from 62% approval last July and nearly 70% approval when Biden took office. 

That leaves Biden in a political bind, particularly as his unpopularity continues to weigh down Democrats nationally with an all-important midterm election fast approaching. Biden ran on a central promise of “shutting down the virus,” yet Americans who don’t live in red states are still faced with many of the same restrictions they were a year ago. 

In an attempt to remedy this, the White House has in recent weeks attempted to resurrect Biden’s image by signaling a “pivot” on the virus, moving from a message of “zero COVID” to “conditioning” Americans to live with it – in other words, following the same strategy red state governors have pursued since early last year. The aforementioned new CDC guidance no doubt provides a boost to this narrative, as more than 70% of the country – including Washington, D.C. – is now in the “low” or “medium” risk categories, where there is no recommendation for indoor masking unless you are at potential “increased risk” for Covid-19.” Reports have also indicated that Biden hopes to use his State of the Union Address as a victory speech of sorts, telling Americans that COVID is in the “rear-view mirror.” 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has no doubt been recruited to help in this effort, particularly as her caucus’s rapidly declining chances of hanging on to their razor-slim majority will likely hinge on if Biden can manage to execute a dramatic turnaround before November. Pelosi already manufactured one supposed “victory” for the president, initially suggesting that attendance at the State of the Union would be capped before announcing that all Members of Congress would be able to attend – all thanks to Biden’s supposed successes on COVID-19.

But even with every House Member and Senator in attendance, Biden’s State of the Union is still unlikely to project any sense of normalcy if the rest of Pelosi’s COVID-19 policies for the event remain in place. For starters, there won’t be any guests present – long a staple of State of the Union Addresses. All attendees must also present a negative COVID test before entering the chamber, even though nearly every Member of Congress is vaccinated and boosted.

The most obvious potential display that things aren’t back to normal, however, will be if every attendee is wearing N95 or KN95 masks, as per the current guidance for the event.

On the one hand, keeping the mask mandate in place would make Joe Biden’s claims of “victory” over the virus appear almost farcical juxtaposed with the image of lawmakers in masks. While it might appease the small but vocal portion of the country who wants to mask forever, to most Americans a masked State of the Union would symbolize a Democratic establishment that is still firmly in the grasp of the COVID lockdown advocates. All of the groundwork the White House has been laying over the past several weeks would likely be for nothing when the country sees a President and a Congress who still appear to be terrified of COVID-19. 

On the other hand, Pelosi lifting the mask mandate at the last minute could provide Biden another opportunity to claim that the country is “moving forward” from the virus. Without the sight of masks, the most potent symbol of the pandemic, Biden could project an air of normalcy by the mere image of a full House chamber for his speech. 

The downfalls of this approach, however, are clear. Democrats remain divided on mask policies, and some appear to actually want to keep pandemic restrictions in place, despite what the CDC now says. It may now be the case that Democrats have so completely convinced their base (and in some cases themselves) to embrace every pandemic restriction as a matter of life or death that even their own supporters don’t want to give up the masks. They may see it as an admission that the anti-mask crowd, whom they have ceaselessly accused of being “anti-science” and “murderers” over the past two years, has actually been right all along.

Lifting the mask mandate would also likely add to the perception that Democrats have only shifted their tone on COVID-19 restrictions as their poll numbers have tanked. As many conservative commentators have put it when explaining Democrats’ sudden “pivot” on COVID-19, “the science didn’t change – the politics changed.” 

Pelosi would also open herself up to accusations of hypocrisy by not requiring masks, as she has thus far staunchly refused to lift any COVID-19 restrictions at the Capitol. The building remains closed to visitors, and she just announced an extension of proxy voting – a supposed emergency measure just for the pandemic – to March 30. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an outspoken House Republican from Georgia, has reportedly racked up nearly $90,000 in fines for refusing to comply with Pelosi’s mask mandate on the House floor. Would Pelosi now dare lift that same mandate to help give Biden a good photo op on the biggest political stage of the year? 

Pelosi thus appears caught in a great dilemma – and it doesn’t stop with the pandemic. After all, if the left submits to reality on the science of masking, might they then also have to submit to reality on their false claims of “systemic racism” in American society? What about the line that unlimited spending has no consequences for the national economy? Before you know it, Pelosi might even have to admit that there are only two genders – as the science and most Americans already believe. Wouldn’t that be a sight. All that reality could very well lead to widespread disillusionment and despair on the left, triggering a great unraveling of the radical Democrats and their supporters in an election year. 

In short, giving up the masks might inevitably lead to Pelosi giving up her gavel and the one thing Democrats love even more than fear – their power.