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White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday defended the departures of high-profile advisers from Vice President Kamala Harris’ team amid reports of turmoil in the East Wing, saying it is “natural” for staffers to be ready to “move on” and an “opportunity” to bring in “new faces and perspectives.”
Symone Sanders, chief spokesperson and senior adviser to Harris, resigned from her post this week and will leave the East Wing at the end of the year.
Sanders is the second top Harris aide to announce her departure in less than a month. Just two weeks ago, it emerged that Harris communications director Ashley Etienne had resigned.
When asked about the high-profile departures and rumors of other potential Harris staffers weighing resignations, Psaki said past precedent shows White House staffers making external moves after some time working in an administration or on a campaign.
“Working on a presidential campaign…and working in the first year of a White House is exciting and rewarding, but it is also grueling and exhausting,” Psaki said. “It’s all of those things at once.”
Symone Sanders in 2018 (Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen)
Psaki noted that while there was an announcement about Sanders’ departure, reports of other staffers resigning are not confirmed.
“Many of the team members you’re referencing, I would just note, that there has been an announcement about Symone Sanders departing, but there hasn’t been official announcements about the others,” Psaki said.
Reports have surfaced this week that two other communications staffers – Peter Velz and Vince Evans – are also leaving Harris’ team.
“I would leave it to them and the vice president’s team to make any additional announcements,” Psaki said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a daily news briefing at the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 2, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
But reflecting on her experience in past political work and in the Obama administration, Psaki said that the moves were “natural.”
“In my experience, and if you look at past precedent, it’s natural for staffers who have thrown their heart and soul into a job to be ready to move on to a new challenge after a few years,” Psaki explained. “And that is applicable to many of these individuals.”
Psaki also noted that it is an “opportunity” for any White House “to bring in new faces, new voices, new perspectives,” and said the vice president’s office would make announcements on that “in due time.”
Further, Psaki rejected the suggestion that the departures, specifically Sanders’, were due to negative coverage of the vice president. Last month, a USA Today poll put Harris at a 28% approval rating.
Sanders worked as a senior adviser on President Biden’s 2020 campaign, a member of his transition team, a deputy assistant to the president, and a senior adviser/chief spokesperson to Harris.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to members of the press as her press secretary Symone Sanders looks on at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport before she boards Air Force Two to return to Washington, D.C., June 14, 2021 in Greer, South Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
“As many of you know, she has been a part of this for two and a half, or three years,” Psaki said. “She’s somebody, and anybody who has spent time with her knows, that she is whip smart, and she has charisma coming out of her eyeballs, and she is going to do plenty of interesting things in the world in the next couple of years to be ready for something new.”
“That’s what happens, in my experiences, in my experience in the past, in White Houses, often,” Psaki added.
A White House official on Wednesday night told Fox News that Biden and Harris “are grateful for Symone’s service and advocacy” and said she “will be missed.”
Psaki on Thursday said she knows Harris is “grateful to all of the staff who have served her.”
“She also understands the excitement and the grueling nature of working on a campaign and working in a White House,” Psaki said. “And, again, as I noted earlier, it is also an opportunity to bring in new faces and perspectives, which is, overall, a very positive thing.”