VP Harris sits down for image-boosting interview amid reported office turmoil

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Vice President Kamala Harris sat down for a lighthearted interview with her hometown newspaper, talking about how her “responsibility as an elected leader is to go to the people,” amid a wave of reports she’s leading a toxic work environment that has prompted an exodus of top staffers.

Harris’ communications director, Ashley Etienne, and senior adviser to the vice president and chief spokesperson Symone Sanders recently announced their departures, fueling reports of a negative White House work environment that have plagued the vice president since she took up the post less than a year ago. One former staffer who worked for Harris before she was vice president told The Washington Post earlier this month that Harris is a “bully” who subjects her employees to “a constant amount of soul-destroying criticism.”

During an interview published Sunday by the San Francisco Chronicle, the former San Francisco district attorney sidestepped any questions about the reported turmoil in her office and repeatedly refused to say whether she has learned anything or has any regrets about her time in office so far.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a Maternal Health Day of Action event in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
(Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“There is nothing about this job that is supposed to be easy,” Harris said. “If something is coming to me, it’s because it needs to be addressed and because, by definition, it’s not going to be easy. If it was easy, it would have been handled before it comes to me.”

“I love people, and there’s so much that we are doing that is directly impacting and with the people in mind,” Harris said. And after “two years of COVID … the level of, I think, undiagnosed trauma that people have experienced, the level of anxiety, it’s real. And I have always felt that my responsibility as an elected leader is to go to the people, especially when their needs must be addressed and they must know that they are being seen and being heard.”

The Chronicle claimed that for Harris, “there was no honeymoon to build her office or find her footing” after the inauguration, “as the administration took over amid the raging pandemic in the days after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.”

Vice President Kamala Harris looks over documents during a meeting with President Joe Biden and members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The vice president said her relationship with President Biden is unique, however, because of his experience as a former vice president under President Barack Obama.

“One of the benefits that I have … is that my president was vice president,” Harris said. “He really appreciates and understands the role, and he’s extremely supportive. I recognize that to be something special. … And so that has influenced a great deal of what this experience has been for me.”

She said she and Biden are “governing partners” who trust each other.

“He can’t do everything, and so on an issue like the root causes of migration, he looks to me because he trusts me, and he understands the position and the work that can be done by the vice president,” she said. “And he asked me to take certain things on because he can’t do everything, and I’ll willingly do it.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris attends a meeting of the National Space Council at the U.S. Institute of Peace December 1, 2021 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Chronicle quoted Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., as defending Harris against the media, which she claimed are distracting “from how effective she is being as vice president.”

“It shows you the scrutiny that they have her under,” Lee said, “and it makes me concerned about all the other issues that the press is reporting on, the kind of reporting that I think takes away from really the focus on what she is doing as vice president for the country.”

The interview comes two weeks after a Politico report said more key members working in Harris’ office were “eyeing the exits” following the resignations of Sanders and Etienne.

The White House has downplayed the departures, with Biden press secretary, Jen Psaki, saying on Dec. 2 that it’s “natural” for staffers to be ready to “move on.”

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