The most dangerous place in Washington may be between the vice president’s office and the exits. Veep Kamala Harris’ chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, is the latest — and likely biggest — departure for the Democrat whose tenure has been a disaster.
Flournoy served as a bridge between Harris and President Joe Biden’s inner circle in the West Wing. “Biden’s team regarded Harris’ chief of staff as an indispensable steadying influence,” Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns write in their upcoming book “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future” — which also reveals how hesitant Biden was to make the then-senator his running mate.
There’s certainly been a steady rush to jump ship. Harris’ deputy chief of staff, Michael Fuchs, announced he was stepping down earlier this month. Harris’ national security adviser, Nancy McEldowney, left the month before that.
Harris’ communications team has been particularly beset by turnover. Deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh skedaddled for the Pentagon in March; top spokeswoman Symone Sanders departed for the greener pastures of MSNBC at the end of last year; Communications Director Ashley Etienne opted to pursue “other opportunities” in November.
In all, about a dozen top Harris aides have fled the vice president’s office since last June. A series of reports has described Harris as a “bully” and the “common denominator” in this mass exodus, with a management style deemed “soul-destroying.”
But the president will turn 80 this year. Despite his reported plans to run for re-election in 2024, polls show many Americans, including roughly a third of Democrats, doubt he will.
So on paper at least, Harris should be a hot ticket. Her office should be a magnet for ambitious people, especially Democrats shut out of Biden’s close core group of advisers. It’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a potential future president, someone who might have to assemble a campaign team or White House staff on the fly as Biden tries to hang on.
The trouble is that nobody sees Harris as an upgrade over Biden electorally — or even a future president. Her poll numbers are at least as bad as Biden’s, residing in the same basement where he dwells. In the RealClearPolitics polling average, her favorability is 11.3 points underwater. Her job-approval ratings are little better; a recent Trafalgar poll (a Republican firm, but one A- rated by FiveThirtyEight) has 63% disapproving of her performance.
Her policy portfolio is a shambles. Immigration, one of the first issues she was tasked with handling, is arguably the administration’s biggest catastrophe. So much so that her team denies that the border itself is really her responsibility, saying that she is actually assigned the “root causes” of migration. Has she found those yet?
Harris is also leading the White House’s “voting rights” push. This includes a pair of bills that have stalled in the Senate, the chamber where she is the presiding officer and the tie-breaking vote giving Democrats nominal control, including a federal elections takeover that may not even have majority support.
The veep is among the administration’s point people on COVID-19, the never-ending pandemic that remains an emergency when it is time to mask commuters but is over when migrants unlawfully arrive at the border. Harris even tested positive for the virus herself Tuesday. Workers’ rights is another Harris project, at a time inflation is gobbling up wage growth.
Harris’ helming of the National Space Council has only been embarrassing. Her primary contribution appears to be one cringe-worthy video in which she talked to children who turned out to be paid actors about the wonders of space, followed by her practicing the same shtick with grown-up members of the Space Force.
“Space is exciting,” Harris mused. “It spurs our imaginations, and it forces us to ask big questions. Space, it affects us all and it connects us all.”
Beam me up, Scotty! Democrats would be much better off if Harris were merely taking up space in the Biden administration.
Dick Cheney had bad poll numbers, but you couldn’t deny he was effective at pushing his priorities. Biden frequently put his foot in his mouth but at least as vice president still had some sway on Capitol Hill.
Not since Dan Quayle has there been a vice president who was such an immediate and obvious liability to the ticket. But even Quayle had a solid base among social conservatives and protected his boss’ right flank. Moderates and progressives alike distrust Harris.
Harris’ defenders often argue that Biden has given her jobs that are too hard. That’s not much of an endorsement. She has largely alienated congressional Democrats, swing voters and her own subordinates. Like space, Harris connects us all — in opposition.
W. James Antle III is politics editor of the Washington Examiner and author of “Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?”
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