More than seven weeks after President Biden took office, White House staff members are working from California, Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere around the country, a striking indication of the strange reality of building a new administration during a pandemic as well as the sharp shift from the Trump administration’s casual approach to dealing with the coronavirus.
Many Biden officials have never met in person with colleagues they interact with on a daily basis. Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, has met her chief of staff only on a video screen.
The setup might be inconvenient and somewhat anticlimactic for government officials who would normally be sporting coveted White House badges and establishing regular after-hours watering holes. But those who chose not to move during the coronavirus pandemic said it had also given them an outside-the-bubble perspective as they experienced firsthand a grim reality that many of the administration’s policies are trying to address.
Emmy Ruiz, the White House’s director of political strategy and outreach, said she became alarmed when she lost water after the deep freeze in Texas last month and immediately recognized it as a “huge red flag.” Because she lives near a hospital, her neighborhood had until then been prioritized in keeping power and utilities running. She called the nurses she knew at the hospital, where her son was born, “and they were painting a very dire picture,” Ms. Ruiz said. “The hospitals needed water, and in some cases they had to transfer patients, but the roads were ice.”
Ms. Ruiz relayed the concerns she was hearing in her neighborhood to Julie Chávez Rodriguez, the White House intergovernmental affairs director, who was in direct contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Security Council. Ms. Ruiz also reached out to local government officials and county judges to help put them in touch with the federal government for support.