By Casey Harper
The Center Square
https://www.thecentersquare.com/

As Republicans and Democrats grapple over the role of masks and vaccine mandates, an unexpected figure has been thrust front and center into the debate, and it’s causing headaches for Democrats.

Several photos have surfaced showing former President Barack Obama and his guests at his 60th birthday party not wearing masks, despite heightened concerns over the new delta variant and many Democrats pushing for renewed mask and vaccine requirements, as well as economic shutdowns.

“President Obama didn’t have to wear a mask at his birthday party,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, one of several Republicans to criticize the event. “But your kids have to at school. Rules for thee, but not for me.”

That reference to schooling has been a particular point of division. Lawmakers across the country are debating a return to school and whether students should be required to wear masks and receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“If Barack Obama can party maskless with hundreds of guests, our children can go to school maskless,” Lance Gooden, R-Texas, said.

The event occurred after a recent reversal in guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending even vaccinated individuals wear masks if they are in high-COVID areas. Roughly 80% of counties meet that standard.

Obama had taken flak leading up to the party, which was expected to have 700 total in attendance. As a result, he announced a “scaled back” version of the party, but that still reportedly included roughly 400 in attendance and the ensuing controversial photos.

His apparent misstep will likely be ammunition for Republicans in their push back against COVID-19 requirements for months to come. House Miniority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., called it “elite hypocrisy,” a common theme of criticism in the aftermath.

“The media mocks people attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and calls it a superspreader,” Scalise said. “But says Obama's huge birthday party is ‘a sophisticated, vaccinated crowd.’ They think they're better than you.”

Defenders of the former president’s party said guests had to submit a negative COVID-19 test before attending, but that has done little to alleviate the backlash.

The criticism is based largely on the renewed call for mask mandates and vaccine requirements after the CDC said even vaccinated individuals must wear masks. The CDC said in May that vaccinated people no longer needed masks, so their reversal has led to widespread debate and division on the issue.

Other Republicans have raised criticisms that requiring masks for vaccinated individuals removes the incentive to get vaccinated and makes Americans question the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“The CDC’s updated guidance deeply undermines vaccine confidence. Mask mandates for more command and control will not build trust – only resentment,” House Energy and Commerce Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers said after the CDC’s reversal. “The Biden Administration should be leading with science, not shame and fear.”