The White House has directed the Interior Department’s chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, to step away from her position after she tried to plan an indoor party with roughly 50 attendees to celebrate the confirmation of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, according to an administration official with knowledge of the matter.
White House officials had initially expressed concerns last week about the planned party, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. The White House officials worried that the party would spread the virus while undermining President Biden’s efforts to urge Americans to continue to practice social distancing to avoid a possible new surge.
Ms. Van der Heide will remain at the Interior Department as a senior counselor to Ms. Haaland, while Larry Roberts, who served as the agency’s acting assistant director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Obama administration, will become Ms. Haaland’s new chief of staff.
The planned party and Ms. Van der Heide’s removal as chief of staff were first reported by Politico.
Ms. Van der Heide did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
In an email to Interior Department staff obtained by The New York Times, Ms. Haaland said she had previously planned for Ms. Van der Heide to take on the new role.
The email did not acknowledge the party but described Ms. Van der Heide as “one of those team members whose drive and dedication to public service has helped me to advocate for working families, social justice, equality and so many other important issues.”
Ms. Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, is the first Native American to become a cabinet secretary. She is expected to play a prominent role in enacting some of Mr. Biden’s most politically divisive climate change policies, including a possible ban on new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas on public lands.