What do we know about these “associates”? They are “longtime political and business world allies,” and “people who have considered themselves members of her inner circle, including donors and people who supported her Senate and White House runs.” And Harris’ chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, is making it difficult for them to get in touch with Harris.
These are not, let’s say, her nearest and dearest. They are perhaps her biggest donors and bundlers, but that doesn’t sound as concerning as “people who have considered themselves members of her inner circle” being cut out. When Harris does not return their phone calls, they reach out to Flournoy, who asks them why they want to talk to Harris. If they say they just want to chit chat, she lets them know they will be able to do that at “future private events.” If they say they want to talk policy with the vice president, Flournoy directs them to a policy staffer.
In other words, the vice president’s chief of staff is keeping the vice president from constant contact with people who think that past political donations entitle them to lobby the vice president on whatever happens to be on their mind. Their efforts to go around Flournoy by contacting Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff have likewise failed.
Who does Harris speak to? “President Joe Biden, her family members, a tight group of friends, and her strategists.” That sounds … awfully reasonable.
Some Harris supporters/allies understand that the vice president of the United States will not have as much time for them as one of 100 senators had.
“There’s no question she [Flournoy] is a strong chief of staff and there’s no question that she is very focused on making sure that the VP is able to be focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and getting people vaccinated, the border, voting rights,” one such unwhiny political realist told CNBC’s Brian Schwartz. As a result, “there could be people who are not necessarily getting access because the chief of staff is prioritizing those tasks for the VP over political outreach.”
This is a great example of the double bind Harris faces, whether because she’s a woman, a woman of color, or simply a Democrat: If she were making a lot of time for these frustrated donors (let’s be real, they’re donors), the headlines would be about how she was allowing people to buy access. But since she’s focusing tightly on policy work and her chief of staff is acting as a gatekeeper, the whining about lack of access turns into a headline and anonymously sourced piece about how “longtime associates” are being “shut out.”
Harris, unfortunately, has plenty of experience with this kind of coverage, from the tired, sexist attacks from some Biden allies during the vice presidential selection process (she was too ambitious and not loyal enough, dontcha know) to the effort to drag her into a sexual assault allegation against one of the 401 equity partners at the law firm at which Emhoff was then a partner, to the persistent attacks on her racial identity and romantic history.
Tina Flournoy is doing her job as a vice president’s chief of staff. Kamala Harris is focusing on policy, and she is not as accessible to every donor and would-be informal adviser as she once was. She is in regular contact with the president, her family, her closest friends, and her actual staff and advisers. Harris is doing her job. That the whines of the people finding out they are not in fact in her innermost circle are considered news is an embarrassment.