Harris adds to a diverse staff where a majority, like their boss, are women of colour

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during a news conference in Wilmington, Del., Dec. 1, 2020. Harris has chosen Tina Flournoy, a longtime aide to President Bill Clinton, to be her chief of staff, transition officials announced on Thursday, Dec 3, 2020. Kriston Jae Bethel/The New York Times
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has chosen Tina Flournoy, a longtime aide to President Bill Clinton, to be her chief of staff, transition officials announced Thursday, pairing a veteran gatekeeper with a newcomer to national elected office.

Flournoy, a founding member of a group of powerful Black women in Democratic politics who branded themselves the “Coloured Girls,” will oversee an office where the majority of senior staff members named are women of colour like their history-making boss.

Harris, who has not yet resigned from her California Senate seat, named her Senate chief of staff, Rohini Kosoglu, who also played a central role in her presidential campaign, as her domestic policy adviser. As a Senate Democratic staff member, Kosoglu helped hammer out the details of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago and is expected to serve as Harris’ liaison with Congress.

Harris last week named Symone Sanders and Ashley Etienne, two Black women, to head her communications team. Sanders advised Harris during the general election, travelling with her and assisting with debate preparation. Etienne is a veteran of the Obama administration and also served as a top aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“When she completes the rollout of her staff and advisers, it will look like America,” said Donna Brazile, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and, along with Flournoy, a founding member of the Coloured Girls.

“Usually that means there’s only one Black person, or one woman,” Brazile said. “With Vice President-elect Harris, you will see more than one.”

The transition also announced that Nancy McEldowney, a former ambassador to Bulgaria who served as a National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration, will be Harris’ national security adviser. McEldowney is white.

Flournoy, 64, has run Clinton’s New York office since 2013, — when she came in as chief of staff, after the departure of his longtime counsellor and top adviser, Doug Band — and is credited with bringing some order to Clinton’s post-presidential life. In the view of many people around Bill and Hillary Clinton, there was a lot to clean up.

Before that, she served as the general counsel at the Democratic National Committee and a top official at the American Federation of Teachers, giving her deep roots in organised labour.

Flournoy and Harris were connected through a trusted ally: Minyon Moore, a veteran of the Clinton administration who is close with Harris’ sister, Maya Harris, and was put in charge of the vetting process for the vice president’s office.

Brazile said that for a history-making vice president who is “going to be new to the national role, there’s no better person to help her navigate that role.”

“Tina will bring not only discipline,” she said, “but a history of working with many of those who are surrounded by the president-elect.”

Nick Merrill, an adviser to Clinton, said Flournoy would bring order to the challenges of running the vice president’s office.

“Being the chief of staff to a president is one of the hardest jobs in the world,” Merrill said. “Being the chief of staff to an ex-president is arguably harder, because you have fewer resources, you have to be intellectually on par with your boss, you have to be the gatekeeper and you have to do it all yourself.”

Transition officials said President-elect Joe Biden had given Harris free rein to choose her staff, in part because of his own experience being micromanaged at the beginning of the Obama administration. That freedom differs from Harris’ experience during the campaign, when a number of Biden loyalists were assigned to her team after she was selected as Biden’s running mate, a reflection of the lingering distrust of some of her longtime advisers, including her sister.

While Flournoy’s appointment was seen as ensuring a grown-up will be in charge of Harris’ office, she is not without critics, who said she did not always have the right instincts to protect Clinton from politically damaging moments.

Many aides in Clinton’s orbit hold Flournoy responsible for Clinton’s ill-fated airport tarmac meeting with Loretta E. Lynch, in June 2016, when Lynch was the attorney general and the FBI was looking into the circumstances around Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

Clinton was wrapping up a sweltering day on the campaign trail in Phoenix in support of his wife’s presidential run when the Secret Service alerted Flournoy and other staff members that Lynch’s government plane was parked next to his. Flournoy said the former president, often eager to catch up with friends, acquaintances and even political rivals, would want to say hello to Lynch, according to a person with knowledge of the events.

Lynch, who had a foot injury at the time, invited Clinton onto her plane to escape the heat, and Flournoy did not stop him from boarding alone, explaining that he and the attorney general should have some privacy.

When the meeting became known it touched off a firestorm of Republican criticism and Lynch ended up recusing herself from overseeing the email investigation, announcing that she would rely instead on the FBI That set the stage for James Comey, the bureau’s director, to make a public statement sharply critical of Clinton even as he announced she would not be charged.

Angel Ureña, a spokesman for Clinton, disputed that Flournoy was in any way responsible for the tarmac incident and said that she had the support of those who worked with her.

“I’ve worked for Tina for nearly eight years, so I’m pretty well-positioned to say where my colleagues and I stand, which is behind her,” Ureña said. “We love and respect her, will miss her and have absolutely no doubt that she’ll be nothing but an asset to the vice president-elect and the country.”


© 2020 New York Times News Service