Symone Sanders, the senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris, is expected to leave the White House at the end of the year, according to five administration officials familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear where Sanders is heading next or when she will be leaving the vice president’s office.
Sanders is the highest profile exit and the second high-profile one from the Harris team in the last month. Ashley Etienne, Harris’ communications director, is also set to depart in the coming weeks.
An official in the vice president’s office confirmed the departure and said the president and vice president have “known for a while.” The official added that Sanders had worked for President Joe Biden for nearly three years.
In a note to staff Wednesday night, Sanders confirmed the exit, writing, “I’m so grateful to the VP for her vote of confidence from the very beginning and the opportunity to see what can be unburdened by what has been. I’m grateful for [Harris chief of staff] Tina [Flournoy] and her leadership and her confidence as well. Every day, I arrived to the White House complex knowing our work made a tangible difference for Americans. I am immensely grateful and will miss working for her and with all of you.”
Flournoy also sent a note to the VP’s team, saying, “Symone told the VP a couple months ago that she’d be leaving us at the end of the year. I’ve often said about her that no job is too big or too small for Symone.”
One of the most publicly recognizable individuals in the Biden administration, Sanders transitioned to Harris’ vice presidential team after serving as a Biden campaign senior adviser during the 2020 election. In her post, she helped Harris juggle a tricky portfolio, including not just trying to address the root causes of migration from Northern Triangle countries and the federal push for voting rights, but also carrying the weight of being the nation’s first female vice president.
It wasn’t always smooth. Harris’ office has been beset by disorder, bad press, and, at times, internal frictions. Outside advisers complained that she was handed policy issues that were destined for failure and not given what she needed to succeed as vice president. And, in recent weeks, chatter has grown increasingly loud that Harris wasn’t positioned well to be Biden’s heir apparent in 2028 or, if he opts not to run again, in 2024.
Symone Sanders, who traveled frequently with Harris, often was the aide who pushed back against these storylines, says Politico. That included this past November when she took to Harris’ defense amid the latest wave of stories about the uncertainty of her political future.
“It is unfortunate that after a productive trip to France in which we reaffirmed our relationship with America’s oldest ally and demonstrated U.S. leadership on the world stage, and following passage of a historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create jobs and strengthen our communities, some in the media are focused on gossip,” she wrote.
In February, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin expressed frustration over a television interview Harris did in his home state to promote the American Rescue Plan, suggesting the administration did not give him a heads up.
During her first foreign trip, Harris — who heads diplomatic efforts to stem migration from the Northern Triangle — had to deal with the fallout over her response about why she has not at that point visited the US-Mexico border as vice president.
And over the summer, White House had to dive into damage control following reports of dysfunction within Harris’ staff.
The interview during which she made the border comment came after Harris had participated in a wide-ranging media training session to improve her delivery and presentation in interviews and speeches. That training had been one of several sessions over the last year, according to multiple sources.
In September, the vice president’s office also attempted to contain the fallout over Harris’ lack of pushback in an exchange with a student who characterized Israel’s actions toward Palestinians as “an ethnic genocide and a displacement of people.”
Since the messaging missteps, the vice president’s office has hired two communications veterans — Lorraine Voles, a crisis communications specialist, and Adam Frankel, a former Obama speechwriter — to focus their efforts on “organizational development, strategic communications and long-term planning,” according to the White House.
Sanders had previously made her White House ambitions known, writing in her 2020 memoir, “No, You Shut Up,” “One day I want to be White House press secretary.”
Bakari Sellers, a friend of Sanders, told the Washington Post this past spring that the decision to make Jen Psaki the White House press secretary “stung” Sanders and that being passed over “hurt.”
Harris’ team will likely see other exits over time.
“Offices reconstitute themselves. Symone is not the last person who will leave the White House,” Dunn told CNN.