Flournoy has led the vice president’s operation since the start of the administration, overseeing all staff and setting the strategic direction for a historic and high-profile vice president. That makes her the highest-ranking of a sizable group of top officials who have left Harris’s office recently, including her deputy chief of staff, national security adviser and speechwriter.
Flournoy is leaving for personal reasons, a White House official said Thursday.
Until Flournoy’s exit, the most visible departure from Harris was senior Harris adviser Symone Sanders, who left at the end of last year and shortly afterward inked a deal with MSNBC. Jamal Simmons, a longtime Democratic operative, joined Harris’s staff as communications director a short time later as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the communications team.
“Tina has been a valued advisor and confidant to me and tremendous leader for the office,” Harris said in a statement. “From day 1, she led our team during a historic first year as we made progress rebuilding our economy here at home and our alliances around the world. Tina is the consummate public servant and I will continue to rely on her advice, counsel and friendship.”
Flournoy’s departure is likely to revive career-long questions about Harris’s management style and the high frequency of staff turnover in her offices and on her campaigns. The move comes at a critical moment, since the upcoming midterm elections, especially if Democrats suffer losses as expected, could clarify whether President Biden will seek reelection and prompt renewed attention on Harris as an alternative.
Harris aides say the departures are routine and unrelated to any internal strife in the vice president’s operation. Some also suggest that she is facing disproportionate — and at times unfair — criticism because of her role as a powerful woman of color.
“Tina has been a critical member of the White House team since day one, working with the President and Vice President to make their partnership effective and help the administration deliver on critical priorities,” Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “Her experience, wisdom, and hard work have been instrumental to our success on many issues.”
Still, the high turnover in Harris’s office stands in stark contrast to the West Wing, where Biden’s inner circle has remained in place throughout his presidency — and much of his decades-long career.
Before joining the White House, Flournoy had a lengthy career in Democratic politics. She served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and held top roles at the Democratic National Committee and on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
Harris, the first female, Black and Asian woman to serve as vice president, has often attracted more attention than others who have held her position, including reporters tasked with chronicling her movements and tracking her polling numbers. She has at times struggled to navigate her role as she has taken on a wide-ranging and difficult portfolio, including voting rights, the root causes of migration from Central America, maternal health care and space policy.
After a number of early missteps, Harris has recently tackled several high-profile issues in ways that appeared to bolster her stature.
She represented the United States at a major global security conference in Germany as Europe was bracing itself for the start of the war in Ukraine. In several meetings, she was flanked by Flournoy. She traveled to Poland and Romania to reassure allies the United States remained committed to supporting Ukraine and backing NATO.
Earlier this month, Harris presided over the Senate confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, slated to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. As chair of the National Space Council, Harris announced the United States. would no longer conduct destructive tests of satellites, calling on other nations to follow suit.
In a more personal vote of confidence, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is getting married next month, said she had chosen Harris to officiate at the ceremony.
Now, as Democrats look to the November midterm elections, many analysts in both parties expect them to suffer major losses, potentially giving up control of one or both houses of Congress. Biden is expected to signal more clearly after the midterms whether he plans to run again, and a tough election could make it harder for the 79-year-old president to press ahead with reelection.
If Biden does not run, Harris, who sought the presidency in 2020, would likely top the list of potential Democratic nominees, and scrutiny of her political strengths and weaknesses would increase dramatically.