Several people within and close to the Department of Health and Human Services said Pence’s office was micromanaging communications related to the administration’s response, and was overly concerned with day-to-day news cycles and public perception rather than long-term strategy about how to contain the growing outbreak.
Two HHS officials said Pence’s office had implemented a top-down structure by dictating to the agency how it should be communicating with the public, emphasizing that officials should be honest and open but refrain from using “alarmist” language about the outbreak in interviews.
Some close to the administration were advising Pence’s staff to worry less about day-to-day news cycles and headlines. Instead, they have counseled the vice president’s office to be fully transparent with the public about why certain mitigation measures may be needed, such as closing schools, rather than worrying whether those precautions would spook the public, adding that the best thing to ensure the president’s reelection was to stamp out the outbreak.
One person added that Pence’s office was more inclined to send out officials it believed were more likely to hew to the White House’s message. On Sunday, for instance, Pence and HHS Secretary Alex Azar made the rounds on the weekend news shows, rather than infectious-disease specialists, doctors and scientists. Fauci had previously been scheduled to speak on the Sunday shows but said he had to be re-cleared by Pence’s office once the vice president took over.