After several reports of discord in the office of Vice President Kamala Harris over the past week, some Democrats seem to be having buyer’s remorse over the woman who’s a heartbeat away from becoming the next president.
In a Friday piece for Axios, Margaret Talev and Jonathan Swan reported that “[s]everal administration officials used ‘s***show’ when describing Harris’ office,” with one Democratic operative revealing that some in the administration are saying, “Oh, she’s f***ing up, maybe she shouldn’t be the heir apparent.”
While this contrasts with a steady drumbeat of official statements out of Harris’ office defending the environment and chief of staff Tina Flournoy — apparently one of the architects of the clouds of gloom encircling the veep’s camp — what’s clear is that those speaking off the record aren’t so sanguine about Harris’ challenges.
That’s a problem, since the former senator from California was picked to be a bit more than a running mate or the heir apparent in eight years if all goes right. Joe Biden is already America’s oldest president, and he comes across as a high-mileage 78; a man prone to forgetting and inventing things for most of his life, Biden’s rate of gaffery has become cringeworthy.
Harris is supposed to be the Democrats’ insurance plan: If and when things go bad, she’ll be ready to plug the breach. And yet, the way Harris runs her office has become a worrisome matter for the Dems.
A Wednesday Politico piece described how 22 current and former administration officials, as well as those familiar with how the vice president’s office is run, described a hive of toxicity.
“People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses and it’s an abusive environment,” one source said. “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***.”
Politico reported that “for some of the people who know Harris best, it’s become an all-too-familiar pattern for a politician who has churned through several iterations of staff on her rise and took office with a team almost entirely new to her.”
“Just six months in, some of those aides in the Office of the Vice President said they are eyeing other employment opportunities. Others have left already. In recent days, two top advance staffers, Karly Satkowiak and Gabrielle DeFranceschi, parted ways with Harris in what they and Harris officials said were long-planned departures, a point disputed by two other people familiar with the matter.”
Much of the blame was apportioned to Tina Flournoy, Harris’ chief of staff. On Thursday, CNBC reported on her strong-arm tactics while working as former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff — tactics which included yelling at longtime friends of the Clintons when they asked for favors.
Publicly, sources in the administration have dismissed the importance of the reports; on Friday, Axios noted that “Harris would be the presumptive nominee if Biden didn’t run. Administration sources believe it would be nearly impossible to unseat the first Black woman vice president.”
They’ve also been dismissing the reports based on the anonymity of the sources. “It’s a whisper campaign designed to sabotage her,” Biden senior adviser Cedric Richmond said.
“Not one named person. That’s what bothers me most. We’re in a day where the stakes are high. You’d just hope if there’s a legitimate criticism they’d put their name next to it,” Richmond added.
“People are cowards to do this this way,” said Harris adviser and chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders on the anonymity of the sources, according to Politico.
Leaving aside the hilarity of Democrats suddenly finding unnamed sources to be a grave affront to accurate reportage inside the White House, whatever the case, Axios didn’t have any trouble finding Dems who were a bit more paranoid about the reports.
One Democratic operative said it wasn’t about party members saying “‘Oh, no, our heir apparent is f***ing up, what are we gonna do?’ It’s more that people think, ‘Oh, she’s f***ing up, maybe she shouldn’t be the heir apparent.'”
And then there were the “[s]everal administration officials” who called the office a “s***show,” adding to an impressive display of asterisks even by Beltway standards.
Axios’ report also noted that “2024 is the elephant in the room. While Biden aides overwhelmingly believe he’ll be the Democratic nominee, they also know he’d be 81 when seeking re-election.”
“An operation sometimes visibly out of sync with Biden’s — and missteps during a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, following a scrutinized interview with NBC’s Lester Holt — have reignited questions from Harris’ 2020 primary bid.”
That primary bid disintegrated amid internecine squabbles best documented in a November 2019 New York Times pre-postmortem filed just days before Harris officially withdrew.
Perhaps nowhere was Harris’ current predicament more accurately augured than with what The Times described as a “blistering” resignation letter from Kelly Mehlenbacher, Harris’ state operations director.
“This is my third presidential campaign and I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly,” Mehlenbacher wrote after the campaign laid off aides with no notice. “With less than 90 days until Iowa we still do not have a real plan to win.”
They didn’t, but the deus ex machina of the vice presidency under the senescent Biden got her closer to sitting behind the Oval Office desk than she ever could have gotten on her own. In the intervening year-and-a-half, she doesn’t seem to have gotten any wiser about the organizational side of politics. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon — something that could make a Harris candidacy easy pickings for former President Donald Trump or Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.