WASHINGTON: Kamala Harris‘ chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders‘ May 2020 book is titled “No, You Shut up.” In Washington DC political salons, word is that that clapback illustrates the dysfunction in the vice-president’s office.
Sanders on Thursday became the second person in Harris‘ team to announce her departure from the vice-president’s office even before she completes a year in office. Harris’ communications chief Ashley Etienne announced in November that she is leaving. At least two more departures are expected before the year end.
“Burnout, better opportunities and concern about being permanently branded a “Harris person” is driving some of the turnover,” the journal Axios, which assessed Sander’s exit, said in an article that piled on top of numerous reports, even in the liberal media, highlighting troubles in the vice-president’s office. Sanders’ exit, one such report said, is “part of an exodus of staffers from the vice president’s embattled office… (which) has been beset by concerns about messaging discipline and staff dysfunction.”
Harris herself put on the best face on Thursday when asked about the developments, telling reporters, “I love Symone…I can’t wait to see what she will do next. I know that it’s been three years jumping on and off planes going around the country and she works very hard, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. I mean that sincerely.”
It is not unusual for officials and staffers to leave early in the administration amid jockeying for power; Senior White House and administration officials left, or were fired, within weeks of President Trump taking office in 2017. But in Kamala Harris’ case, the capital’s commentariat has focused from the get-go on tensions within her office and with President Biden’s team with allusions to race and gender — the vice-president’s office is staffed mostly by minorities, many black and female.
Harris’ chief of staff Tina Flournoy, who is also black, has faced criticism for being a tough gatekeeper who does not allow easy access to the vice-president.
Sanders herself had made no secret of her ambitions, expressing hope in her book that one day she would be the White House spokesperson, fueling reports of tension with Jen Psaki, Biden’s current press aide. Asked on Thursday if the staff departures were prompted by bad headlines for Harris, Psaki said working in the first year of an administration is “grueling and exhausting” and “it’s natural for staffers who’ve thrown their heart and soul into a job to be ready to move on after a few years.” She praised Sanders, saying she has “charisma coming out of her eyeballs.”
On her part, Harris has tried to publicly foster team spirit, often letting the media a peek into staff birthday parties celebrated with cupcakes.
One such party took place on Thursday during a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, to tour a public transit facility and give a speech on the bipartisan infrastructure bill with Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary who some Democrats are suggesting could replace Harris as Biden’s running mate in 2024 should the President run again.
After hugging Buttigieg in a show of warmth and cameraderie, they boarded Air Force Two en route to Charlotte where the duo examined an electric bus in Charlotte’s Transit System Garage. Harris then sat down in the drivers’ seat of the bus, honked the horn, and pretending to drive the bus, chortled, “The wheels on the bus go round and round,” as Buttigieg looked on.

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