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Kamala Harris has been in politics for eighteen years yet still can’t quite figure out how to keep staff.
The departure of two top travel advance women, just as she’s heading for the border in a hastily announced trip to get there before President Trump does, suggests that things are getting very bad indeed.
According to a softly cushioned report in the New York Times:
Two top aides who oversee travel for Vice President Kamala Harris are departing, leaving the vice president with her critical support staff in flux as she seeks to ramp up travel ahead of big vaccine and voting rights pushes she is planning through July.
Karly Satkowiak, the director of advance, and Gabrielle DeFranceschi, the deputy director of advance, have both told the vice president’s office they plan to leave in the coming weeks, according to three sources familiar with their plans. A spokeswoman for Ms. Harris said the departures were long planned and that both women are currently engaged with finding their replacements.
The Times tries to convey that the whole thing was pre-planned and just a changing of the guard. It’s similar in style to former State Department biggie Roberta Jacobson’s hasty exit from her border coordinator job, shortly after Harris was named Biden’s border czar on March 24. Just a temporary job, they claimed, nothing special. Amazing how they recycle their spin and excuses from one quick staff exit to the next. Nothing to see here, move along.
The details of the Times report, though, suggest a very different story.
One, the staff depart at a very bad time, just ahead of a politically critical trip for Harris, as well as a slew of others, including Harris’s bid to persuade Americans to get vaccinated, and some new plan to rig elections through what the press calls a voter rights initiative.
Perhaps the two women are staying on to get those travel-advance jobs done, but you can bet they’ve got their eyes on the door and won’t be too upset if all the details don’t come together and the whole thing does not go well. They’re busy training their replacements, the Times reports. Great time to train the newbies, suffice to say.
Two, the Biden administration apparently can’t find anyone to take the fleeing staffers’ places. They’re calling for volunteers now and pleading with previous staff to step up because it appears they can’t get people. Worse still, they’re demanding that these people work for free, despite the fact that Harris, to put it delicately, is challenging as a boss. She is well known for flying off the handle at reporters and blaming others for her own shortcomings. That’s her history with pretty much everyone, and her staff turnover shows it. Just read stories like this.
Crazier still, Harris already has at least 100 paid vice presidential staff members with a $1.6-million budget. The Wikipedia entry, which is noted as in need of updating, doesn’t list these two “top” staffers who are exiting at all on the roster, nor does it list anyone in charge of travel. That means it may be more, or else she’s got another staff somewhere not listed. That’s a lot of people, and this Legistorm entry shows 185 past and present staffers. What do these people do, given that none of them has a job managing Harris’s high-visibility trips, and Harris can’t find anyone to do it?
Maybe Harris’s last trip, to Guatemala, was an indicator, given that it suggests she doesn’t travel well.
She started out with airplane trouble, which delayed her trip, which is never a good sign. Then she showed up with the president of Guatemala, looking haggard with dirty, greasy hair. The president of Guatemala complained about the Biden administration’s mixed messages, and Harris could only prove it to him with her wan “do not come, do not come” admonition to illegals after offering them a host of benefits if they do, and later meeting with DACA activists to discuss ways to reward their illegal entry. The culmination was her insane giggling at softball interviewer Lester Holt of NBC, who asked her when she was going to the border. It was a question she should have anticipated and had an answer for, but she didn’t.
All of that suggests that staff work was lacking, not necessarily because staff were bad, but because Harris is impossible to work with. The Times report from two gushing female reporters attempts to smooth over the obvious signs of trouble by taking Harris’s word for it on those exits.
But in light of previous reporting by other Times staffers, ones who don’t have “girls, girls” on the banner of their Twitter feed and girl-power statements galore in their tweets, there’s reason to think there’s a problem.
According to the New York Times, in a report dated Nov. 29, 2019, on the collapse of Harris’s presidential campaign:
“This is my third presidential campaign and I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly,” Ms. Mehlenbacher wrote, assailing Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Harris’s sister, Maya, the campaign chairwoman, for laying off aides with no notice. “With less than 90 days until Iowa we still do not have a real plan to win.”
The 2020 Democratic field has been defined by its turbulence, with some contenders rising, others dropping out and two more jumping in just this month. Yet there is only one candidate who rocketed to the top tier and then plummeted in early state polls to the low single digits: Ms. Harris.
Here’s a whiff of her management style from the report:
Yet, even to some Harris allies, her decline is more predictable than surprising. In one instance after another, Ms. Harris and her closest advisers made flawed decisions about which states to focus on, issues to emphasize and opponents to target, all the while refusing to make difficult personnel choices to impose order on an unwieldy campaign, according to more than 50 current and former campaign staff members and allies, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations and assessments involving the candidate.
Many of her own advisers are now pointing a finger directly at Ms. Harris. In interviews several of them criticized her for going on the offensive against rivals, only to retreat, and for not firmly choosing a side in the party’s ideological feud between liberals and moderates. She also created an organization with a campaign chairwoman, Maya Harris, who goes unchallenged in part because she is Ms. Harris’s sister, and a manager, Mr. Rodriguez, who could not be replaced without likely triggering the resignations of the candidate’s consulting team. Even at this late date, aides said it’s unclear who’s in charge of the campaign.
As I noted in my May 19 blog post on why Kamala Harris can’t keep staff, she has a record of hiring lousy top people who make things miserable for the lower-level ones (such as a sex-harasser back when she was in Sacramento that she claimed to know nothing about). She also treats staff badly, with sudden pay cuts and layoffs and demands for volunteers, which has got to be bad for morale. Worst of all, she has a chaotic management style, blaming staffers for her own shortcomings, and not allowing staff to do their jobs because the only staffer who matters is apparently her sister Maya, who appears nowhere in the hierarchy. Who’d want a boss like that?
Obviously, her problem is a failure of leadership even at the staff level, a bad thing in a supposed leader of the U.S. She’s created her career by sucking up to powerful men, such as Willie Brown, her former “boyfriend,” and campaigning on her looks — her Instagrams, her selfies, her Vogue photoshoots, as well as some suspicious flattery from President Obama. None of those things is useful at this point for keeping staff on board and running a well-maintained Office of the Vice President. Can you imagine these things happening when Mike Pence had that position? We never heard about problems like that with his staff.
Even Joe Biden is able to keep staff, however strange it may seem. As the Times euphemistically concludes:
Unlike President Biden, who has been surrounded by the same top aides for the majority of his political career, Ms. Harris entered the administration with many new employees. Many of those officials came in with an understanding that they would stay only on a short-term basis.
So as Harris plans a slew of travel, seems to her staff like a good time to leave. Heckuvajob, Kammie. It’s almost as if the staff planned their exit this way as if to send Harris a message.