Friday, January 21

What the hell is going on with Kamala Harris?

(CNN) — In the past two weeks, Vice President Kamala Harris has lost two of her top advisers.

First of all, just before Thanksgiving, the news broke that Ashley Etienne, Harris’s communications director, I would leave the office of the vice president. Then this Wednesday night, CNN reported that Symone Sanders, Harris’s chief spokesperson and senior adviser, it goes too.

Harris’ allies were quick to explain that both exits were long overdue and are not the result of any kind of problem within the vice president’s office.

“It is natural that staff members who have given themselves body and soul to a job are ready to leave after a few years,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, about Sanders’ departure on Thursday.

If you believe that, you have not been paying attention. The top advisers to a vice president do not leave at random within a year of their tenure. An exit can be explained by extenuating circumstances. Two? No way.

Etienne and Sanders’ decision to step down raises a simple question: What’s going on in Harris’s world?

Although the question is simple, the answer – or the answers – are not.

There are those who even dispute the premise of the question, insisting that Harris is being judged with an unfair standard due to her historical status as the first woman, first black and first Asian American to hold the vice presidency.

However, such senior staff departures so early in a term would raise questions regardless of who was in the vice president’s office because, well, they are strange and unusual.

So again, what is going on?

We have some clues about it thanks to the reports from my CNN colleagues Edward Isaac Dovere and Jasmine Wright of last month. The duo wrote:

“Worn out by what they consider to be ingrained dysfunction and a lack of focus, the West Wing’s top advisers have despaired of Vice President Kamala Harris and her staff, deciding that there is simply no time to deal with them right now, especially in a at which point President Joe Biden faces rapidly multiplying legislative and political concerns. “

“The exasperation goes both ways. Interviews with nearly three dozen current and former Harris advisers, administration officials, Democratic operatives, donors and outside advisers, who spoke extensively with CNN, reveal a complex reality within the White House. Many in the vice president’s circle complain that they are not preparing or positioning her properly and that, on the contrary, they are neglecting her. The vice president herself has told several confidants that she feels limited in what she can do politically. And those around her remain cautious about hinting at future political ambitions, as Biden’s team is very on the lookout for signs of disloyalty, especially from the vice president. “

When a politician feels stressed or believes that he is being abused, he almost always puts downward pressure on his staff. And reports of problems within Harris’s staff are nothing new.

Already in July, Politico reported that Harris staff were “experiencing low morale, gaps in their lines of communication and a decline in trust between advisers and senior officials.” (The post put much of the blame for those problems on Harris’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy.)

Additionally, Harris’s difficulties in retaining staff are not new.

“I didn’t cover it very closely in Sacramento, but I know it got rid of the staff,” Mark Z. Barabak, a veteran Los Angeles Times political reporter, said of Harris’ time as California attorney general. “Especially in the communications part.”

(Worth noting: The California Department of Justice paid $ 1.1 million in settlements to former Harris employees at the prosecution to settle allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation during his time in office. A Harris spokesperson said in 2019 , when the agreements were revealed, that Harris didn’t know about them. “As the CEO of a department of nearly 5,000 employees, I take responsibility for it,” Harris said in a statement at the time. “No one should face harassment or intimidation in the workplace, and victims of sexual misconduct should be heard, believed, and protected.”)

Barabak has his own theory of why Harris has had so much trouble: It’s part of the job.

“Even as he takes over a number of political portfolios, even when he is visiting Paris this week to try to resolve the administration’s severed relations with France, it remains a fact that the No. 2 spot in the White House it is inherently a dwarfing position, “he wrote in mid-November. Later in the same article, he added the following:

“Virtually all vice presidents in modern history, with the exception of Dick Cheney, who played an unusually prominent role in guiding defense and foreign policy under President George W. Bush, have looked smaller than when they took office. “.

“That’s because one of the main requirements of the job is to get away from the spotlight, except to support the president and his agenda.”
Regardless of the reason, Harris is nowhere near where she and her team expected to be at the end of her first year as vice president. And things, at least for the moment, seem to be getting worse, not better.

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