A new report suggests staffers in Vice President Kamala Harris’ office are considering jumping ship out of fear of being labeled a “Harris person” when they apply for future gigs.
The Axios report comes as four top Harris advisers — communications director Ashley Etienne, chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders, director of press operations Peter Velz and deputy director of public engagement Vince Evans — plan to leave their posts alongside the flailing vice president before the end of this year.
Sources told the outlet that while some of the turnover can be attributed to burnout and the pursuit of better opportunities, another factor is concern about staying on too long in the service of a VP beset by missteps and unflattering headlines.
According to Axios, some Harris staffers have their eyes on a post in President Biden’s presumptive 2024 re-election campaign, while others want to keep their options open in the event the president does not run for a second term and another Democratic candidate tries to take his place.
The outlet noted that at least one Democratic operative pushed back on the report, insisting the veep’s staffers do not think working with Harris would negatively affect their chances of employment on future campaigns.
The White House has attempted to shrug off the departures of key Harris aides as normal, with press secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters Thursday that “working in the first year of a White House is exciting and rewarding, but it’s also grueling and exhausting.”
“If you look at past precedent, it’s natural for staffers who have thrown their heart and soul into a job to be ready to move on to a new challenge after a few years and that is applicable to many of these individuals,” she added. “It’s also an opportunity, as it is in any White House, to bring in new faces, new voices and new perspectives.”
Friday’s report is the latest in a torrent of bad press about Harris’ management of her staff, which began in late June with a Politico report describing the VP’s office as “chaotic” with a “tense and at times dour” atmosphere. One source even described the office environment as “abusive” and told the outlet that “people feel treated like s–t.”
Days later, a report emerged from Business Insider that focused on Harris’ management style dating back to her time as San Francisco district attorney more than 15 years ago. Some onetime staffers recalled her as “unpredictable and at times demeaning,” while another recalled “a sense of paranoia … you never knew when she was going to snap at you.”
The latest defections have reportedly piled pressure on Harris chief of staff Tina Flournoy, a veteran of Democratic politics, to turn the ship around.
“If we mess this up, it’s going to set women back when it comes to running for higher office for years to come,” one party operative told Axios.
A second Democratic strategist told the outlet that Harris needs “someone loyal, who can think methodically to best position the vice president and to make sure everything she’s doing is being maximized and communicated to a broad population and get her [poll] numbers up.”
Etienne announced her departure in mid-November, days after Harris allies were cited in an CNN report claiming the vice president felt she had been sidelined inside the White House and was not getting the same level of support as other officials. The same report also described the working relationship between Harris and Biden as “an exhausted stalemate.”
“It’s hard to miss the specific energy that the White House brings to defend a white man, knowing that Kamala Harris has spent almost a year taking a lot of the hits that the West Wing didn’t want to take themselves,” a former Harris aide told the outlet, referring to the administration’s support of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg taking paternity leave amid the global supply chain crisis.
While neither Biden nor Harris have officially announced a re-election bid for 2024, some have speculated that Buttigieg could pose a challenge to Harris for the Democratic nomination in 2024 or 2028.
The transportation secretary attempted to swat away those rumors on Thursday, saying, “It’s 2021.”
“And the whole point of campaigns and elections is when they go well, you get to govern. And we are squarely focused on the job at hand,” he added. “I am excited to be part of a team led by the president and the vice president and I think the teamwork that got us to this point is really just beginning.”
Amid the staffing changes and infighting, Harris has been plagued by dropping poll numbers.
A November survey by USA Today and Suffolk University found Harris with a 28 percent approval rating — 10 points below Biden’s own anemic numbers.
An Economist/YouGov poll late last month found that around 43 percent of US adults have a favorable opinion of the vice president while approximately 50 percent have an unfavorable opinion.