Exodus: More top staffers bailing on Harris -- why?

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Either Kamala Harris sees a need to reboot her political standing, or her staff sees a need to give her the boot. Two of the vice-president’s key communications figures have now quit before her first year in office, and two other departures are raising eyebrows even in the normally supportive media. Axios reports that Harris’ most well-known and highest profile adviser has given her one-month notice:

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday. …

Ashley Etienne — her communications director — announced her end-of-year departure last month and is no longer serving the VP’s office.

That’s very short notice for both women. Etienne disappeared almost immediately, and Sanders’ notice includes the holidays. Neither apparently offered to stick around until their successors were in place. The loss of Sanders is especially notable, given her constant presence around Harris and quick-response reputation.

And let’s not forget Sanders’ connection to Biden:

Vice President Kamala Harris’s senior adviser and chief spokesperson Symone Sanders is leaving by the end of the year, the latest high-profile departure from her office amid growing concerns over Harris’s communication strategy and how well she is being positioned for future roles.

Sanders worked for President Joe Biden for nearly three years, and often traveled with Harris on domestic and foreign trips.

Nor are those the only two departures from Harris’ team of late:

While it’s true that John Nance Garner once described the vice presidency as an office as significant as “a bucket of warm spit,” it’s more significant in recent times, and its staffers have a higher profile as well. Harris has the potential to be even more significant than the Gore/Cheney/Biden model too, having been selected primarily as the bridge to the progressive wing and the heir apparent to the next open Democratic presidential nomination. People should be clamoring to get on the Harris bandwagon, not looking to bail before her first year in office is up.

Clearly, something is happening, but Newsweek can’t figure it out either:

Harris appears to be facing an exodus of staff amid reports that her director of press operations Peter Velz and deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs Vince Evans will also leave her office.

The departures have come following reports of a rift between Harris and President Joe Biden, a number of apparent errors in the vice president’s messaging and rumors of dysfunction in her office. …

Etienne’s decision to leave the administration came last month after the White House had attempted to tamp down rumors of a rift between Harris and Biden amid reports of dysfunction in the vice president’s office.

Velz and Evans have reportedly said they will leave, according to two sources who spoke to The Washington Post, and they are expected to take up other roles in or close to the administration.

CNN reported in November – citing around three dozen sources including some on the vice president’s staff – that Harris felt constrained and sidelined over the first 10 months of the new administration, while she has also suffered a number of apparent communications blunders.

If the issue is “communications blunders,” then perhaps this is Harris cleaning house and putting a new team in place. There’s only one problem with that explanation, however — the blunders didn’t come from the team. Harris committed those blunders herself, on live television, and they weren’t “apparent.” Harris did such a bad job with Lester Holt in her June interview that the White House kept her under wraps for five months, only recently allowing Harris to do a puff-piece interview with George Stephanopoulos.

The more likely explanation: Harris’ Icarus act has already begun its plunge back to Earth, and the staffers don’t want to take the blame for the crash. Harris has turned into a millstone around Biden’s neck, which is remarkable considering the millstone he himself is at the same time. Harris’ trainwreck has staffers looking for better opportunities already, perhaps from the realization that Harris has little or no chance of competing for a presidential nomination after the debacle of her first few months on the biggest political stage.

Perhaps this is just a reboot. If so, we can measure it by any Harris improvement in public. If the weird cackle and the non-sequitur responses continue, we’ll know the exodus was to the lifeboats.