Kamala Harris’ tenure as Vice President got off to a sometimes tricky start, with a division of labor issues between her and President Joe Biden leading to publicly stressful situations. In recent weeks, internal conflict between Harris and her staff has been making the news.
The Vice President’s office has been reported to be “an abusive environment.” Politico reported on the tensions that arose from the assignment of southern border management to Harris. The low morale, faltering trust, and poor communication were considered temporary effects of undertaking the border crisis.
Rather than putting matters at ease, the Politico story sparked even more internal controversy in the Harris office. Staffers began sharing the story and personal anecdotes of mistreatment.
Business Insider reported that the Politico story spread among former and current staffers “like wildfire.” The story quoted an unnamed staffer as saying, “So many people recognized themselves in it, or recognized treatment they had seen or treatment they had heard about and dismissed.” The staffer sought therapy to address trauma from “on-the-job abuse” that arose after Harris was picked as Biden’s running mate.
Chief of staff Tina Flournoy has received much of the criticism described by the media. Staffers claim that Flournoy has limited access to Harris and has promoted a culture “where ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out.”
Another aide said, “People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses, and it’s an abusive environment. It’s not a healthy environment, and people often feel mistreated.”
Other recent reports have quoted an aide who described “a sense of paranoia in that office.” Harris’s office has since referred to anyone making anonymous statements about interoffice dysfunction as “cowards.”
Political offices are subject to relatively high turnover rates in the best of times. Toxic office cultures in government make that problem even more pronounced. Qualified and competent workers often leave public service for more rewarding work in the private sector.
President Biden faces a real challenge if his Vice President loses control over her own office. The executive branch of government desperately needs the public’s trust to function as it should, and distrust within the ranks will sink that mission from the start.