The Interior Department’s chief of staff was reassigned after she planned a party that could have violated the White House’s COVID-19 social distancing rules.
Jennifer Van der Heide will be moved to a senior counselor position at Interior, Politico reported. Van der Heide reportedly continued making arrangements for the party celebrating the confirmation of Secretary Deb Haaland even after a White House official ordered her to cancel the event.
SCOOP: The White House is removing the Interior Dept.’s chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, who recently planned a 50-person indoor party at the agency that the WH ordered canceled, and is moving her to a senior counselor job at the agency. https://t.co/1Bh84FaxDa
— Daniel Lippman (@dlippman) April 1, 2021
Van der Heide began planning a 50 person event in the department’s library before Haaland was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. The White House reportedly nixed the party on March 8, one week before the Senate voted 51 to 40 to confirm Haaland. However, Van der Heide continued seeking catering estimates for the event, according to Politico.
White House officials were concerned about both a COVID-19 superspreader event and the optics of celebrating Haaland’s confirmation as Biden urged extreme caution about the virus, a source told Politico. (RELATED: Biden Promises ‘Good Chance’ Friends And Family Can Gather For July 4, But Cautions, ‘Listen To Dr. Fauci’)
Lawrence Roberts, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the Obama administration, will replace Van der Heide.
“Jennifer Van der Heide is an invaluable member of the Biden Administration and the leadership at the Department of the Interior,” White House spokesperson Vedant Patel told Politico. “She will continue serving in the administration and Secretary Haaland as a Senior Counselor within the Department.”
In one of his first moves in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order mandating mask-wearing in federal buildings and on public lands. The order also requires “maintaining physical distancing,” although it does not specify to what extent. Biden violated the rule on his first night in office, as he and his family celebrated the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial, without wearing masks.