Fact check: Claim that Democratic leaders aren’t using masks is based on old picture

Eric Litke

Claim: Democratic leaders aren’t wearing masks or social distancing in private

One of the many COVID-19 conspiracies circulating on Facebook focuses on the supposed benefits Democrats get from the presence of the virus.

A June 30 post in a conservative Facebook group said “hype” about COVID-19 allows Democrats to limit President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, minimize public attention on former Vice President Joe Biden and to cancel the national convention scheduled for Milwaukee to block Bernie Sanders from gaining support there.

The post includes a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talking with several other Democratic leaders in Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, speaks with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., right, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., left, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., second from left, in a private room just off the House floor after the House votes to impeach President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

In addition to Facebook, the picture and claim were posted on an array of conservative websites, all implying a conspiracy while asserting COVID-19 hype benefits Democrats.

But the Facebook post added one other element.

The text above the list of supposed benefits says in bold letters, “NO MASK in private. NO SOCIAL DISTANCE.”

Let’s take a closer look at that part of the claim.

Did Democratic leaders including Pelosi huddle up as pictured without standard COVID-19 precautions?

Timing is everything

Pelosi has been a strong proponent of mask-wearing (in contrast to Trump’s refusal to wear one in public).

Two days before this Facebook post, CNN quoted her as saying a federal mandate on mask wearing is “long overdue.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., wears a face mask as she arrives to speak at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2020.

A New York Times story from a month earlier said Pelosi has “relentlessly, and strategically, made masks a part of her platform.”

So the allegation of hypocrisy here is noteworthy, particularly with the supposed photographic proof.

But the picture is not what it seems.

The image, taken by Andrew Hamik of the Associated Press, dates to Dec. 18, 2019. It shows Pelosi speaking with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal after the House voted to impeach Trump, the original caption says.

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At that point, the COVID-19 outbreak was just beginning in Wuhan, China. The first case in the U.S. wasn’t confirmed until more than a month later. The first stay-at-home order enforcing social distancing wasn’t imposed until March, in California.

So, of course, Pelosi and the others pictured would not be social distancing or wearing masks.

And we’ll note, Pelosi has been very conscious of mask and social distancing recommendations.

When joined by other Democrats at a recent news conference, the dozens of lawmakers were spaced for social distancing. House committee meetings have been held virtually, and for in-person meetings, masks have been the norm. What’s more, Pelosi consistently wears a mask when appearing in public.

Our ruling: False

We rate this claim FALSE since it is not supported by our research. The image presented as proof is actually from December, months before masks and distance became part of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic. Pelosi has actually been a strong supporter of mask-wearing and social distancing for herself and the congressional body she oversees.

Our fact-check sources:

Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or elitke@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.