White House staffer describes 'a complete lack of empathy' during Trump administration for keeping residence workers safe from COVID-19

White House staffer describes 'a complete lack of empathy' during Trump administration for keeping residence workers safe from COVID-19
The White House.AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the White House residence staff.
  • A staffer said employees were given conflicting guidance on how to safely return to work last year.
  • The White House's approach to COVID-19 shifted dramatically after Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump.

While President Donald Trump and many of his aides were stricken with COVID-19 last year, the White House residence staff never stopped toiling in the background, according to The New Yorker.

For years, residence staff lamented the infrequency of events held at the White House under Trump, which included only two state dinners, compared with the six hosted by President Barack Obama in his first term.

Among "lifers," the staff members who have served multiple US presidents, a sense of "malaise" had spread throughout the White House, according to the report.
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As the COVID-19 pandemic wore on last year, the desolation of the building was said to have only intensified. A staff member who was renamed Jason to protect his identity discussed the evolving situation under Trump.

"People stayed home," he said. "Everything from food service to national security - if it could be done at home, it was done at home."

But the former White House chief usher Timothy Harleth said the residence staff adhered to the necessary COVID-19 health guidelines more than other Trump White House employees.
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"We were the ones wearing PPE, pushing to get our folks tested," he said, adding that "most of our folks can't easily telework."

According to Harleth, roughly seven or eight residence staffers contracted COVID-19. Once the staffers recovered, they were asked to work in the place of other employees because of a presumption of immunity against the highly infectious novel coronavirus.
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Jason said the "lifers" were not given consistent messaging on when they were expected at the White House or whether they needed to remain at their homes.

"There was lots and lots of confusion, no direction from the top, a complete lack of empathy, sympathy," he said. "The Christmas parties with maskless hordes were catered, but [the staff] would have to be there for this and that. There was not a steady message on how to keep you safe."

When President Joe Biden and the first lady Jill Biden arrived at the White House on January 20, the tone in the building had shifted.
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Because of social-distancing measures, employees were spread out throughout the State Floor when the Bidens arrived at the White House after the inaugural ceremony.

Another residence staffer remarked to The New Yorker about the difference in the way Biden approached the pandemic compared with Trump, for whom staffers were all assembled in one room for goodbyes as he left the White House.

"It's like night and day," the staffer said.
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