Gone-ala: Two more staffers join VP exodus

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Couldn’t quite make it a year, eh? The brain drain from Kamala Harris’ staff continued yesterday with two more departures, following months of reporting about “infighting and dysfunction,” as CNN puts it.

One of those exiting has a new job as executive director for the Congressional Black Caucus, which could be seen as a step up:

Vincent Evans, who serves as Harris’ deputy director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, also announced he will move to the Congressional Black Caucus, where he’ll serve as executive director.

“I am deeply honored to be named the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus,” Evans tweeted Wednesday. “As we write the next chapter of the CBC story, I am excited for the opportunity to lend my experience and passion for supporting the collective vision of this storied Caucus. Onward.”

The other, however, left the Vice President’s staff for the grand opportunity of a lifetime to become … a protocol staffer at State?

Peter Velz, Harris’ director of press operations, shared news of his departure from the White House, which was first reported by Politico, in a series of tweets.

“Today is my last day at the White House, and it truly has been an honor. I will be forever grateful to Vice President Harris, the incredible Team @VP, and I’m so proud of our work this past year supporting this historic Administration,” Velz wrote. “The White House is an amazing place to work — you’re surrounded by the most selfless, smart, hard-working people everyday doing their best to serve the American people. And it has has [sic] been an absolute joy.”

Velz said he was leaving the White House to join the protocol team at the State Department, where he said he’s “excited to continue supporting the @VP and @POTUS for their meetings with foreign leaders, delegations, and international travel.”

Velz isn’t leaving the VP’s staff to run the protocol team at State. He’s bailing out of the second-highest executive office in order to work as a logistics drone in the bureaucracy. Bear in mind too that Harris’ comms teams recently had new opportunities for promotion appear with the resignation of Ashley Etienne, Harris’ former comms director, not to mention Symone Sanders’ departure as Harris’ senior adviser. That makes Velz’ choice to move away from this center of power to work on the margins of diplomatic travel schedules even more curious.

CNN reported a couple of months ago that the staffing meltdown would soon reach a critical stage. Harris’ performance worried the DNC so much that they hired a consultant for her on contract, but that didn’t help at all:

There have been some changes in the vice president’s office to address those concerns. Two new hires were made in September to help with long-term planning and communications. That has helped improve relations with the West Wing, while [Harris chief of staff Tina] Flournoy was pointed to the Democratic National Committee for backup.

The DNC hired a contract consultant in part to help with the Harris portfolio. That has not been going well either, according to people familiar, with Harris’ staff usually only reaching out to ask for buffering tweets after problems or negative stories arise, rather than being more proactive. Meanwhile, Flournoy has been turned down by several others who’ve been unwilling to work in the office, and several people currently on staff have started to reach out to contacts to say they’re looking to leave, according to sources who’ve gotten the calls.

The vice president’s office is dismissive of many of these concerns. [Symone] Sanders, in a statement provided to CNN, pointed to the successes of the recent trip to Paris — a priority mission on which Biden dispatched Harris to smooth over bruised diplomatic relations.

How convincing was that pushback? Three weeks later, Sanders and Etienne bailed out of Harris’ orbit. Flournoy’s apparently the only staffer of significance still poised to get a one-year certificate from Harris — but she still has two more weeks to go. Seven months ago, Politico fingered Flournoy for the dysfunction blame, along with Harris herself:

Harris’ team is experiencing low morale, porous lines of communication and diminished trust among aides and senior officials. Much of the frustration internally is directed at Tina Flournoy, Harris’ chief of staff, a veteran of Democratic politics who began working for her earlier this year.

In interviews, 22 current and former vice presidential aides, administration officials and associates of Harris and Biden described a tense and at times dour office atmosphere. Aides and allies said Flournoy, in an apparent effort to protect Harris, has instead created an insular environment where ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out. Often, they said, she refuses to take responsibility for delicate issues and blames staffers for the negative results that ensue.

While much of the ire is aimed at Harris’ chief, two administration officials said the VP herself also bears responsibility for the way her office is run. “It all starts at the top,” said one of the administration officials, who like others requested anonymity to be able to speak candidly about a sensitive matter.

“People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses and it’s an abusive environment,” said another person with direct knowledge of how Harris’ office is run. “It’s not a healthy environment and people often feel mistreated. It’s not a place where people feel supported but a place where people feel treated like s—.”

Evans was lucky enough to land a significant post on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, running the CBC’s executive offices. For that matter, Harris and Flournoy can feel a bit lucky for that too, since it raises fewer questions about Evan’s decision to leave before his first full year was up. Velz’ departure looks more like an escape by comparison, especially given the other departures for murkier “greener pastures.” It’s getting easier to see why Harris’ name isn’t getting mentioned in the successor chase for when Joe Biden leaves office.