Biden’s first year: Kamala Harris hit by staff exodus and controversies

Biden’s first year: Kamala Harris hit by staff exodus and controversies

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In her first year in office, Vice President Kamala Harris has seen a number of high-profile staff departures – as well as sliding approval numbers and reports of frustration and discontent.

Harris was hit by a rocky first year, with particular questions being raised over her handling of the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border after President Biden put her in charge of diplomatic outreach to countries in Central America.

At the same time, she has struggled to keep staff on her team.


Harris’ communications director Ashley Etienne resigned in November to “pursue other opportunities.” That came after reports of exasperation between Harris’ office and Biden’s amid lagging approval ratings for Harris.

CNN reported that aides felt hung out to dry as she tackles thankless tasks without White House cover and the latter’s staff having “thrown up their hands” at her “lack of focus.”

Shortly after Etienne’s departure, Symone Sanders announced she would be departing at the end of the year. Harris’ office said Sanders, a senior adviser and her chief spokesperson, “will be missed.”


Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to members of the press as her chief spokesperson Symone Sanders looks on, June 14, 2021, in Greer, South Carolina. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Symone has served honorably for three years,” a White House official told Fox News. “First as a valuable member of the president’s 2020 presidential campaign, then as a member of his transition team and now deputy assistant to the president and senior adviser/chief spokesperson to the vice president.”

“I love Symone, and I can’t wait to see what she will do next, and I know that it’s been a, you know, it’s been three years of a lot of jumping on and off planes and going around the country, and she works very hard, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next, and I mean that sincerely,” Harris told reporters at the time.

But the vice president declined to comment when she was pressed on whether Sanders’ departure was a part of a great internal shakeup.

“Well, I’ve told you how I feel about Symone. Next question,” Harris said.

In January, Vincent Evans, who served as the vice president’s deputy director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs for nearly a year, left to become the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

White House officials maintain that the departure of several staffers does not signal that Harris is a bad boss. In December, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House has a history of seeing departures by high-level staffers and described the work as “grueling” when she was pressed by reporters on the work environment in the vice president’s office.

“Working on a presidential campaign … and working in the first year of a White House is exciting and rewarding, but it is also grueling and exhausting,” Psaki told reporters this week. “It’s all of those things at once.”

Meanwhile, those coming on board also caused some issues for the embattled Veep. Jamal Simmons, Harris’ new communications director, apologized in January after a 2010 tweet reemerged in which he asked why illegal immigrants appearing on television were not being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Jamal Simmons in Los Angeles, California, on Feb. 20, 2020. (Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for BET)

In the tweet, Simmons said he “just saw 2 undocumented folks talking on MSNBC. One Law student the other a protester.”

“Can someone explain why ICE is not picking them up?” he asked

He subsequently clarified that he was not suggesting ICE arrest them: “Just seems off u can go on TV & admit breaking law & not be arrested.”

“As a pundit for much of my career I have tweeted a lot and spoken out on public issues. Sometimes I have been sarcastic, unclear, or just plainly missed the mark,” Simmons said in the statement.


“I sincerely apologize for offending those who care as much as I do about making America the best, multi-ethnic, diverse democracy it can be,” he said. “I know the role I am taking on is to represent the Biden-Harris administration, and I will do so with humility, sincerity and respect.”

In a press conference on the eve of the anniversary of his inauguration, President Biden said unambiguously that Harris would be his running mate for reelection in 2024.

“She is going to be my running mate – number one. And number two, I did put her in charge. I think she’s doing a good job,” Biden said.