On Friday, it was reported that newly sworn-in Department of the Interior secretary Deb Haaland tried to hold a party to celebrate her ascension to the command of the Department. Apparently, Jennifer Van der Heide, the Interior chief of staff, wanted to throw a “Southwest-themed” party for 50 people to commemorate the event. The event was scheduled to be held at 4:00 p.m. in the library of the Interior Department on March 16, 2021.
But before invitations could be sent out, “The White House eventually got wind of the planned event, and the Office of Cabinet Affairs ordered it shut down.” They reportedly feared it could “ become a superspreader event.”
“In addition to concerns about the size of the party in the middle of a still-virulent pandemic, White House officials expressed consternation about the political optics of hosting such an affair while the administration was urging Americans to be responsible about public health,” reports POLITICO.
“The secretary and Interior leadership have diligently observed Covid protocols both in and out of the building,” said an Interior spokesperson in a statement. “That includes implementing a first-ever mask mandate for the agency, a stringent telework posture, and multiple communications to staff assuring them that their health and safety is a critical priority. What this shows is that junior staff made soft inquiries for something that never happened. That the new team conducted research and gathered estimates for potential future events and opportunities should not be shocking. There was no event at Interior.”
The POLITICO report also noted that “This is not the first time that Van der Heide has attracted negative attention for her work for a boss. In 2015, the Office of Congressional Ethics said that Van der Heide, when she was chief of staff for former Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), had appeared to have run afoul of ethical guidelines that separate government activities from campaign activities. One example was how she emailed a campaign staffer asking the person “how are we doing to outreach to them for $?” for a State Department event that Honda co-hosted in 2013.”
If the party was allowed to go forward, it would have directly violated the Biden administration’s March 8, 2021 guidelines recommending people “[a]void large events and gatherings, when possible.”
“Another Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage, updated Feb. 18, says: “As much as possible, avoid crowds and indoor spaces that do not offer fresh air from the outdoors.” The D.C. public health emergency’s latest notice, issued last week, also says that indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people,” the report reads.
Also, the Biden administration’s Interior Department coronavirus workplace safety plan issued at the beginning of the year explicitly states that “no DOI indoor workplace or visitor experience facility, venue, or other areas where visitors typically congregate in large crowds should operate above 25% of normal occupancy standards during periods of significant or high community transmission as defined by CDC.”
“The party also seemed to violate the spirit of the Covid-19 telework and travel guidance for the White House issued to Cabinet agencies. ‘Remember that you and your senior staff are setting an example, not only for your agency staff and the rest of government, but for the American people,’ the guidance advises,” according to POLITICO.
Haaland appears to be starting her tenure at the Department of the Interior much the same as she did while she was in Congress, where she repeatedly disgraced her office by claiming Antifa terrorists were “peaceful protesters” and demanding she will hold onto power while claiming President Trump is a “dictator.”