Jan 6, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Harris seeks help with Hispanics

Vice President Kamala Harris is seen sitting among a spray of American flags.
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris is searching for a seasoned Democratic operative to fill a new Hispanic outreach role, as she reconfigures her team ahead of the midterm elections, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Hiring a dedicated staffer to tend to Hispanic groups is another indication Harris — a potential 2024 presidential contender — knows she needs to shore up her political standing among various factions within the Democratic Party.

  • With her approval rating at 32%, according to a year-end poll from a USA TODAY/Suffolk University, outside advisers are counseling Harris on staff changes on how to improve her standing — within the White House, the Democratic Party and the broader public.
  • Repairing relations with Hispanics, who will represent roughly 1 of 8 eligible voters in 2024, goes beyond public relations and gets to the core of her political future.

The big picture: Harris’ office has been buffeted by the departures of her communications director, Ashley Etienne, and press secretary, Symone Sanders, within the first year.

  • On Wednesday, Peter Velz — Harris’ director of press operations, announced he was leaving to join the State Department.
  • Vincent Evans, another senior Harris aide, plans to become executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
  • Over the summer, a group of the Democratic Party's most influential women gathered for a strategy session about how to defend Harris and her chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, against a torrent of bad press, Axios reported in August.

The intrigue: While Harris is expected to fill the communications director and press secretary roles — and add someone for Hispanic outreach — it's unclear if she's ready to make any other fundamental changes.

  • She has an active kitchen cabinet led by her sister, Maya Harris, brother-in-law, Tony West, and niece, Meena Harris.

Harris' challenge with Hispanics is all the more complicated because President Biden has asked her to address the root causes of the border crisis, which continues to bedevil the administration, with roughly 1.86 million migrant encounters this year.

  • Some Democratic lawmakers, as well as prominent Latinos in her home state of California, were outraged when she told NBC’s Lester Holt last year that her message to Central American asylum seeks was: “Do not come."
  • A spokesperson for Harris declined comment to Axios.

Go deeper: Michael Collins, director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs for the vice president’s office, has been interviewing potential candidates for the Hispanic outreach position.

  • “Building up more robust outreach efforts in Black and Hispanic communities is imperative,” said Rachel Noerdlinger, a former aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton who helped organize a December meeting between Harris and Black female leaders.
  • “Bringing on senior leadership that is strongly connected in these communities is a direction they should head,” said Noerdlinger, now a partner at Actum, a new public strategies firm.
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