Vice President Mike Pence’s office is in charge of all novel coronavirus messaging after several aides blamed negative coverage about the response on too many mixed messages from senior members of the administration.
The new communications approach follows President Donald Trump’s decision to put Pence in charge of the administration’s coronavirus response.
Now Pence’s office is expected to take the lead role on coordinating all public statements and appearances related to the coronavirus. And the current expectation is that officials on the task force who go on television will likely have to clear their statements with his office beforehand.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney sent a brief, government-wide email on Thursday saying that all coronavirus-related communications must now go through Katie Miller, Pence’s press secretary, according to two people familiar with the email. Previously, Jessica Ditto, the deputy director of communications, had been handling communications for the situation. It’s unclear if she’ll still have any role with the situation.
The New York Times first reported Pence’s messaging role. The Times also reported that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently told associates he has been instructed by the White House not to speak out about the virus without clearance, though sources tell CNN Fauci is still expected to appear on television.
It remains to be seen if the effort will help streamline the administration’s response. It was Trump who directed his top economic adviser Larry Kudlow to go on television this week in order to calm volatile markets. In one appearance, Kudlow suggested it was a good time to buy for long-term investors. And most criticism of the administration’s response to coronavirus so far has stemmed from the President, who has continued to downplay the outbreak while contradicting his own health officials.
Trump grew irritated as he watched news reports questioning whether his administration was prepared to respond to the outbreak as he flew home from India this week.
On Wednesday, the President pushed back against an assessment by a top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official about the likelihood community-based spread of the coronavirus in the US, saying that he does not believe community spread in the country is inevitable.
Behind closed doors, the President has also been frustrated with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
According to administration sources, Trump has been displeased with Azar for failing to keep him updated on crucial decisions concerning the virus.
Following Trump’s decision to have Pence lead the coronavirus effort, the vice president’s office announced Thursday that four new administration officials would be joining the task force including Kudlow and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
In a sign that Pence’s office has already taken control of the messaging, Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro had several cable news appearances scheduled Wednesday and Thursday canceled.
This story has been updated to include additional reporting.
CNN’s Alex Marquardt contributed to this report.