Jamal Simmons, a Democratic communications aide and media contributor, has been tapped to be Vice President Kamala Harris’ new communications director, a White House official confirms.
News of Simmons’ hire is the first of what is expected to be a communications overhaul of sorts for the vice president, who spent her first year in office in defense mode following a myriad of reports, including by CNN, of staff infighting and dysfunction.
Simmons, according to various biographies, has worked in politics and media for more than two decades, helping elect former Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as appearing on CNN, NPR, MSNBC and CBS among others.
The Hill was first to report the news of Simmons’ appointment.
Harris had appeared set to start the year with two top communication spots in her office empty – communication director and spokesperson.
Simmons will replace Ashley Etienne, who departed the office last year along with other top aides. Etienne departed the office in November to pursue “other opportunities,” a White House official told CNN at the time. Etienne’s exit had been a long time coming, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN at the time.
The following month, CNN was first to report Symone Sanders was leaving Harris’ office, vacating her role as senior adviser and chief spokesperson. A replacement for Sanders has still not been named.
The news of Simmons’ selection comes after two staffers announced Wednesday that they are leaving Harris’ office.
Peter Velz, Harris’ director of press operations, shared news of his departure from the White House, which was first reported by Politico, in a series of tweets. Velz said he was leaving the White House to join the protocol team at the State Department, where he said he’s “excited to continue supporting the @VP and @POTUS for their meetings with foreign leaders, delegations, and international travel.”
Vincent Evans, who serves as Harris’ deputy director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, also announced he will move to the Congressional Black Caucus, where he’ll serve as executive director.
Staff shakeups after the first year of an administration are not unprecedented, nor unique to Harris’ office.
Asked last month if the recent staff resignations were indicative of a greater trend within her office, Harris declined to weigh in, focusing instead on praising Sanders before adding succinctly, “Next question.”
In November, CNN reported that several people on the vice president’s staff had started to reach out to contacts to say they’re looking to leave, according to sources who’ve gotten calls, while many in the vice president’s orbit have expressed frustration that Harris has not being adequately prepared or positioned by the White House and instead is being sidelined.
This story has been updated with additional background.