Top White House officials mobilize to defend Vice President Kamala Harris amid a spate of leaks over malfunctions and power struggles in her office.
Driving the news: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Axios in a statement: “The President’s confidence in you is evident when you see them together in the Oval Office.” Biden’s senior advisor, Cedric Richmond, said in an interview late Thursday night, “It’s a whisper campaign aimed at sabotaging you.”
Details: Their responses came after Axios reached out to the White House with new reports of growing tensions between West Wing officials and the Harris team, including Chief of Staff Tina Flournoy.
- Some White House officials were frustrated with a series of Harris missteps and increasingly public bickering in their orbit that became known in a Politico story Wednesday. Flournoy’s old boss, former President Bill Clinton, defended her with a statement describing her as an “extraordinary person.”
Why it matters: In 2024 the elephant will be in the room. While the majority of Biden’s aides believe he will be the Democratic candidate, they also know that he would be 81 if he tried for re-election.
- An operation that is sometimes visibly out of sync with Biden’s – and missteps during a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, including an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt – reignited questions from Harris’ prime 2020 offer.
- Harris would be the putative candidate if Biden didn’t run. Government sources believe it would be nearly impossible to remove the first African American female vice president.
But many Democrats, including some of the current senior administration officials, are concerned that it could not defeat everyone the Republican Party creates – even if it were Donald Trump.
- A Democratic agent tells Axios’ Alayna Treene that most Democrats don’t say, “Oh no, our heir to the throne is killing it, what are we going to do?” It’s more like people thinking, ‘Oh, she’s screwing it up, maybe she shouldn’t be the heir.’ “
- Some Democrats near the White House are increasingly concerned about Harris ‘handling of high profile issues and political deafness, and question their ability to maintain the coalition that rode Biden to the White House, sources from Axios’ Hans Nichols report.
What we hear: Relations between the West Wing and the Vice President’s Office are strained.
- Several administrative officials used “shitshow” to describe Harris’ office and contrasted their operation with disciplined, virtually leak-proof Biden aides.
- Some Biden officials consider the Harris operation to be poorly managed and staffed with people who do not have long-term relationships with it. They feel badly advised by their press and communications shop and find it instructive that they have already lost two foremen and a digital director.
Case study: A few months ago, a press request came into the Vice President’s office that should have been a simple press request. Forbes wanted Harris on the cover of its “50 Over 50” issue – and welcomed her rise to become “the first woman, the first black person, and the first South Asian American to become US Vice President.”
- After concluding that Flournoy had sat on the request – a characterization that an adviser to the Vice President flatly denies, stating that she was only setting details before sharing them with a larger circle of the White House – the west wing eventually stepped in to move to get an answer from Forbes.
- The Vice President eventually attended – and received radiant treatment. But Biden advisors couldn’t understand why it had to be so difficult, say people familiar with the incident to Axios.
What you say: Harris’ senior adviser Symone Sanders and deputy chief of staff Michael Fuchs defended Harris and Flournoy. Harris’ team notes that the president has entrusted the VP with a portfolio that includes voting rights, migration from Central America, space, work, broadband, small business support and women in the workforce.
- “People don’t fight every day,” said Sanders. “There is no consternation among adjutants. That is not true. … I hear that there are critics. Those who talk often do not know, and those who know usually do not talk.”
- Fuchs dismissed criticisms of Flournoy and Harris as “rumors” and “not true”, saying they showed integrity and leadership as the pandemic made an already difficult job even more difficult.
Klain praised Harris and her team as “the fastest and strongest start of any vice president I’ve seen”, saying “their talent and determination have already made a huge difference”.
- “It provides immigration, small business, voting and economic growth information for the American people,” said Klain. “The results speak for themselves: a decrease in border arrivals from the Northern Triangle, improved immunization equity and improved economic opportunities for women.”
Richmond called Harris a “staunch advocate of the Biden-Harris agenda, “and said the demand for her participation in events remained high.
- He said no one complained to him about her or her team. And he said it was unfair to compare a vice president’s staff to a president’s – let alone Biden’s team, which includes some advisors who have worked for him for decades and served in three White Houses.
- “You can’t keep the vice president’s team by that standard,” said Richmond. “But I think they are good, I think they rip their tails off and I think the TP does all of her duties and takes care of her problems.”
- Regarding the story against Harris, he said, “At some point it becomes easy, one person says something long enough, and it becomes an urban legend. It doesn’t have to be believable. It doesn’t have to be something real and it can just snowball. “
- “Not a named person. That bothers me the most. We are on a day when a lot is at stake. They would only hope to put their name next to it if there is legitimate criticism.