U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris awaits her speech on June 3, 2021 in Washington, DC during a high-speed internet access event in the South Court Auditorium of the White House.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Kamala Harris’s chief of staff has effectively ruled out several of the vice president’s longtime political and business allies as the Biden administration faces multiple challenges, including struggles over voting rights and the border, according to people familiar with the matter.
Harris has not returned calls to anyone who viewed themselves as members of their inner circle, including donors and people who supported their presidential and White House runs, some of the people who know about the situation.
Under the supervision of Chief of Staff Tina Flournoy, Harris speaks regularly with President Joe Biden, her family members, a close group of friends and their strategists, these people said. People declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But while Flournoy, who built a bad rap while working for former President Bill Clinton, wields her power as the vice president’s gatekeeper, several of Harris’ allies outside the federal government are struggling to return their calls after years of regular membership with her Get in touch, said some of these people.
One person familiar with Flournoy’s handling of in-depth communication with these employees says they sometimes start a conversation by asking, “What do you want the Vice President to do?” If the person just wants to say hello and have a quick chat, Flournoy says the time will come at future private events.
Sometimes when a person wants to talk to Harris about where they stand on politics, Flournoy will say they can’t talk politics to the vice president and will introduce one of their political advisors.
Some of these counselors and donors are trying other avenues, including by trying to speak to Douglas Emhoff, the vice president’s husband. Many of these calls have yet to be answered, these people said.
Chiefs of staff, especially those at the highest levels of government, are expected to keep a tight ship for their bosses, including by restricting who comes through the door for meetings or who can call them. In the world of the Vice President, some allies can join – but they protect their status so they don’t conflict with Flournoy.
For example, an influential Democratic donor who was raising money for Harris’ failed presidential run recently attempted to contact the vice president and had not yet received a call back. Then that person decided to contact Flournoy.
That did not work. The donor reached out to another Democratic financier to get Flournoy’s contact information. But the finance colleague declined to share Flournoy’s email address for fear of losing access himself.
Another Harris supporter said she hasn’t heard from the vice president since calling supporters during the transition period.
While Flournoy has made it harder to get in touch with Harris, some of the Vice President’s supporters accept it because Harris has expanded their portfolio. Harris recently made her first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border as vice president, announcing Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and is expected to work on criminal justice reform, among other things.
One person close to Harris said they appreciate what Flournoy is doing and have accepted that it just becomes harder to get in touch with Harris now that they are vice president and work on big initiatives.
“No question about them [Flournoy] is a strong chief of staff and there is no question that she is very focused on making sure the vice president can focus on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccinating the people, the border and the right to vote, “said another Harris ally, who spoke to Flournoy.
“So by making sure that she can focus on what she’s responsible for, there might be people who don’t necessarily get access because the chief of staff prioritizes these tasks for the vice president over political outreach,” said the person.
A Harris spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
In this file photo dated May 31, 2008, Tina Flournoy, then a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws, is seen during a hearing in Washington.
Susan Walsh | AP
Flournoy has deep roots in Washington, DC and is a veteran of the mainstream democratic establishment.
In the second half of the 1980s, she worked as a trainee lawyer for Julia Cooper Mack, a judge on the DC Court of Appeals, before entering politics, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
CRP also says she later served as an attorney for the Democratic National Convention, as a leader on Clinton’s transition team after his election in 1992, and then as an attorney for the former president’s office.
Flournoy was listed as General Counsel to cigarette maker Phillip Morris on a 1995 White House press council, which named members of the Kennedy Center’s Advisory Committee. She later served as Senator Joe Lieberman’s traveling chief of staff during the 2000 presidential campaign when he was Al Gore’s running mate.
After serving on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, she became the assistant to the president of public policy for the American Federation of Teachers, an influential union. Flournoy was originally linked to Harris by Minyon Moore, who was an assistant to Clinton during his presidency. Moore, who did not respond to a request for comment, was once named as one of the 100 most powerful women in Washington.
Prior to becoming Harris’ chief of staff, Flournoy headed Bill Clinton’s staff from 2013. In this position, Flournoy oversaw a staff of about 10 people who worked directly with Clinton and who reportedly worked regularly with the Clinton Foundation, people with direct knowledge of the matter.
While Flournoy was chief of staff, Clinton held an infamous tarmac meeting with then Attorney General Loretta Lynch while his wife ran for president in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server was being investigated at the time by the Justice Department FBI.
Flournoy’s style of working for Harris is familiar to people who knew her when she worked for Clinton. She took over the administration of access to Clinton after the departure of his longtime right-wing husband Doug Band. Band, co-founder of management consulting firm Teneo, is known for helping shape Clinton’s life after the president, including helping found the foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative.
According to a report by Vanity Fair, Clinton and the band interacted with some controversial celebrities and executives, including the late Jeffrey Epstein, who later died of suicide in prison after being arrested for child sex trafficking.
“If you look at Doug’s tenure, it ranges from Epstein to others,” one person with direct knowledge of Flournoy’s work told CNBC.
“If you look from 2013 to about a year and a half ago when Tina was here, you can’t point out that either of them was here [Clinton’s orbit]. I call some of these people who were once around ‘the disgusting people,’ ”this person added.
Clinton praised Flournoy’s hiring in a tweet after Harris made the official announcement. A Clinton spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Band did not respond to a request for comment.