Harris’ comms director, Jamal Simmons, is set to depart from office

Jamal Simmons, communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving his role after about a year in the post. He is expected to depart next month.

“Working for Vice President Harris has been an honor and a privilege,” Simmons said in a statement to POLITICO. “I’m so thankful for the confidence she put in me and I will miss this fantastic team more than anything.”

A longtime communications aide in Democratic circles, Simmons plans to move to New York with his family. Lorraine Voles, Harris’ chief of staff, told staff Friday of his coming departure, noting Simmons had “agreed to come on board for a year.”

In her email, Voles said she knew Simmons “could help me steady the ship,” and credited him for growing the “V.P’s digital presence and building relationships with national, regional and constituency media.”

“Jamal has been a great partner in the vice president’s office and he is a talented member of our White House communications team,” Anita Dunn, senior adviser to President Joe Biden, said in a statement. “He has been a vital driver in communicating the work of the vice president and our shared White House agenda during a very critical year, culminating in history-defying results.”

Simmons joined Harris’ office in January. During his tenure as comms director, he helped stabilize the vice president’s team and pushed it to adopt a more offensive posture after a first year beset by missteps and with scrutiny, neither the White House nor Harris’ office were prepared for.

Simmons was among the most vocal aides encouraging Harris to conduct more interviews. He also advocated that she hit the road to introduce herself to the country. The strategy involved the VP traveling to spots that typically were bypassed by the White House and meeting with smaller groups to build out a network of key constituency groups during the midterms.

Peers described him as a stabilizing force.

“The first year is exciting and there's so much incoming. And you're just trying to survive every day in many ways,” former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in an interview. “As it gets into the second year, you have the ability to take a bigger picture approach and really think about how you want your boss, the president or the vice president to be out there.”

Simmons’ departure opens up a major hole in the VP’s staff at a moment when she and the president are potentially gearing up for a reelection campaign. In her email, Voles told staff she was “working with the communications team to determine next organizational steps.”

But aides and advisers in Harris world also say they feel more confident in her position now than early on in the Biden administration. They cite the travel she did in her second year and her role as the administration’s leading voice in the fight to defend abortion access.

Current and former aides also credit Simmon for helping improve the office environment, with one former aide saying he was able to “steady the ship by really having her leaning in.”

“One of the things that he put in place was really like a flood the zone play, which is, a vacuum attracts anything,” that former staffer added. “He really pushed to get her much more out there. So a lot more TV, more creative on the social front. More digital first interviews.”