Vice President Kamala Harris has tabbed a new communications director, veteran Democratic aide Jamal Simmons, to try to course-correct her office’s messaging in 2022 after a series of stumbles and staff departures last year.
Simmons, 50, has nearly three decades of experience working in politics and with media outlets. His hiring was first reported by The Hill.
Former Harris communications director Ashley Etienne departed last year to pursue “other opportunities.” Etienne previously worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
It’s unclear when Simmons will start his job. But he comes aboard amid reported tension between Harris allies and West Wing aides — as well as reports that Harris is a difficult boss, driving high staff turnover throughout her career.
Symone Sanders, who served as a Harris adviser and chief spokeswoman, also recently departed without announcing a new job.
Simmons will bring experience fending off poor press after working for unsuccessful 2004 presidential candidates Wesley Clark and Bob Graham. He also worked on the Clinton White House’s advance team and as deputy communications director for Al Gore’s 2000 campaign.
He also boasts deep relationships on Capitol Hill and in the media, which may prove useful in generating more favorable coverage. In recent years, he’s worked as a contributor to The Hill and CBS News.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Simmons was co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance group, which advocates for broadband internet, between 2010 and 2018.
Harris faced a glut of bad press in her first year as VP, undermining her potential bid to be the first female president.
The veep’s staff reportedly are frustrated that President Biden handed her tough assignments, such as reducing illegal immigration from Central America. Other tasks include leading a stalled drive to pass a federal election reform bill, which is unlikely to succeed due in part to opposition from Senate centrists to lifting the 60-vote requirement for most bills.
Harris also took heat for waiting three months to visit the US-Mexico border after Biden tapped her to address the “root causes” of the ongoing migrant crisis. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) recently told the New York Times that he’s given up on trying to work with Harris after arrests for illegally crossing the border spiked to a 35-year high.
“I say this very respectfully to her: I moved on,” Cuellar said. “She was tasked with that job, it doesn’t look like she’s very interested in this, so we are going to move on to other folks that work on this issue.”
But Harris defenders accuse Biden’s main White House staff of being insufficiently supportive and possibly racist for allegedly being more eager to defend Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who took paternity leave amid a ports crisis.
“It’s hard to miss the specific energy that the White House brings to defend a white man, knowing that Kamala Harris has spent almost a year taking a lot of the hits that the West Wing didn’t want to take themselves,” a former Harris aide told CNN in November.
Harris would be the front-runner for the 2024 Democratic nomination if Biden doesn’t run, according to a poll released last month by Politico and Morning Consult. Harris would have the backing of 31 percent of primary voters, trailed by Buttigieg with 11 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 8 percent, the poll found.
A poll released in late November by The Hill and HarrisX found Harris with 13 percent support among hypothetical Democratic candidates, followed by former first lady Michelle Obama at 10 percent. All other candidates were below 5 percent in that poll.
Harris told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview that she and Biden have never talked about their 2024 election plans as uncertainty about Biden’s intentions fuels tension among Democratic factions.