A staffing exodus from Kamala Harris’ team has reportedly been driven in part by her aides’ fears of being branded a “Harris person” ahead of the 2024 election.
The vice president’s office has been beset by high-profile departures in recent weeks, capping off a disappointing year for Ms Harris who has seen her popularity decline sharply in office.
Panic has set in among Democrats with Ms Harris polling well below Joe Biden, calling into question her position as the president’s successor should he not seek re-election.
It has led some staffers to quit out of fear they will be tarnished by their association with Ms Harris, in the event that a more promising candidate presents themselves in 2024, according to the website Axios .
One source referred to the feeling among staff as a concern of being permanently branded a “Harris person”.
Others have experienced burnout from the demands that come with working at the White House or believe they can find better employment opportunities elsewhere.
One Democrat close to Ms Harris’ office told Axios that the departures were increasing pressure on chief of staff Tina Fluornoy.
"If we mess this up, it’s going to set women back when it comes to running for higher office for years to come," the operative said.
The most prominent staffing exits are those of Symone Sanders, the vice president’s spokeswoman and most prominent public defender, and her communications director Ashley Etienne.
Two other senior staff, director of press operations Peter Velz, and the deputy director of Ms Harris’ office of public engagement, Vince Evans, are also reportedly leaving their posts.
Ms Sanders’ friends insist her departure is not linked to the criticisms of the vice president’s communications strategy.
The 31-year-old is hoping to promote her book, “No, You Shut Up,” which was published in the midst of the pandemic and while she was busy working on Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign.
It is not unusual for senior staff to leave a year into a new administration, with many trading the cache of their White House titles for better paid positions in the private sector.
But Ms Harris’ office has been plagued with reports of dysfunction for months, with staffers reportedly feeling sidelined by the president’s team and lacking direction.
Sources within Ms Harris’ circle have argued she is not being adequately prepared or positioned as Mr Biden’s number two.
It has fuelled concerns over Ms Harris’ political standing and led some Democrat strategists to openly speculate over alternative presidential candidates for the party.
Mr Biden, 79, insists he will run for a second term, but many remain doubtful that he would, or could, serve into his eighties.
Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary and former 2020 candidate, has been feted as a potential rival to Ms Harris for the Democratic nomination in 2024.
The pair held a joint visit to a bus and rail garage in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday in an apparent attempt to quell rumours of a growing rivalry between them.
But Mr Buttigieg has declined to endorse Ms Harris as Mr Biden’s natural successor in interviews, instead saying they were “too busy" to think about a future White House battle.
Mr Buttigieg, 39, enjoyed an early lead in the 2020 Democratic race before backing Mr Biden as his lead expanded.
He has been a prominent implementer of Mr Biden’s bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which is hugely popular with the American public.
However, he has faced criticism from some conservative commentators for taking paternity leave during critical negotiations for the legislation.
The White House issued a public defence of Mr Buttigieg in response, which frustrated aides of Ms Harris who argue she is not offered the same protection from negative attacks .
"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," one former aide told CNN.
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