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After staff exodus, Vice President Harris to lose long-serving aide

Rohini Kosoglu, one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in the administration, says she wants to spend more time with family

Rohini Kosoglu at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 13. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Vice President Harris is set to lose one of her closest and longest-serving aides in August with the departure of domestic policy adviser Rohini Kosoglu, whose planned exit follows a major shake-up of the office late last year and into the spring.

Kosoglu, 38, previously served as chief of staff in Harris’s Senate office and on her unsuccessful presidential campaign. Her decision to leave comes amid concerns among some Democrats about high turnover on the vice president’s team and Harris’s political viability at a time when President Biden is saddled with low approval ratings.

In an interview, Kosoglu — who has three sons, ages 9, 6 and almost 3 — cited a desire to spend more time with her family and dismissed the notion that her departure should be viewed as part of a pattern of staff instability. Kosoglu has advised Harris on a range of issues, including maternal health, reproductive rights, broadband access and voting rights.

“It’s been six years, and she understands that my family’s very much looking forward to this time, and that I will always be here should she need any trusted information or counsel,” Kosoglu said in an interview. “Even through this time period, she’s been an invaluable source of support and guidance to me to come to this decision.”

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In a statement, Harris praised Kosoglu as “a brilliant and trusted leader” who has “brought vision, strategic judgment, and a depth of experience as our Administration has addressed some of the most urgent challenges facing our nation. ”

Harris’s chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, deputy chief of staff Michael Fuchs and national security adviser Nancy McEldowney left in the spring. That followed the departure late last year of several top aides, including chief spokeswoman Symone Sanders and communications chief Ashley Etienne. In all, at least 13 staffers have left Harris’s office since last summer.

Some former Harris staffers have said the vice president’s demanding style has contributed to burnout. Supporters countered that the nation’s first female, Black and Asian vice president was being held to a double standard.

Josh Hsu, Harris’s chief legal counsel, who also served in her Senate office, called Kosoglu’s departure a “big loss” because of her close relationship with Harris. But he emphasized that veterans of other presidential administrations said staff turnover is to be expected.

“The staff stories, I tend to think, are often a bit exaggerated,” Hsu said.

Kosoglu, a New Jersey native whose parents emigrated from Sri Lanka, has been part of an ethnically diverse team in the vice president’s office, and is one of the highest ranking Asian Americans in the administration. She has helped Harris, whose mother emigrated from India, work with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to condemn a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and give voice to a community that has felt minimized in the political conversation.

Kosoglu began her public service career as an intern for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), then worked in the Senate mail room after graduating from the University of Michigan. She eventually rose to become a policy adviser for Stabenow, spent eight years working for Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), and joined Harris’s office when the California Democrat was sworn into the Senate in 2017.

Bennet said Kosoglu, in the vice president’s office, helped marshal support for his successful effort, with other Democrats, to expand the child tax credit during negotiations over the American Rescue Plan legislation last year.

“I completely take her at her word that she’s doing this because it’s important for her family,” Bennet said of Kosoglu’s decision to step down. “She’s always been able to balance things extremely well and is making a mature decision for her and her family.”

In 2019, Kosoglu helped prepare Harris for a Democratic primary debate by phone because she was nine months pregnant and unable to travel. She gave birth the morning of the debate and watched her boss on television hours later.

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At the White House, Kosoglu has focused on maternal health, helping organize a discussion on the issue last December between Harris and Olympic champion sprinter Allyson Felix.

The Biden administration has struggled to make progress on some of its biggest domestic priorities, including immigration reform and voting rights. In the interview, Kosoglu cited the challenges of dealing with major news events that alter the administration’s daily agenda.

She pointed to the mass shooting in the Atlanta area in March 2021 in which a gunman killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. In the aftermath, Kosoglu accompanied Harris on a trip to speak with community members.

Kosoglu was traveling with Harris to Plainfield, Ill., last month for an event on maternal health when news broke that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. She helped brief the vice president aboard Air Force Two and assisted in drafting remarks in which Harris called the court’s decision a “healthcare crisis” and warned that “the expansion of freedom clearly is not inevitable.”

“We were going through the text in the motorcade,” Kosoglu recalled.

The vice president’s previously scheduled speech, she added, ended up focusing on “how taken aback she was with the decision and rightfully understanding that the American people are taken aback. That was obviously not the maternal health speech that she had planned.”

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