Flournoy had been serving as Chief of Staff to former President Bill Clinton, hovering out of the direct Washington spotlight for a few years after serving in several prominent roles in the Democratic party throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
She served as deputy campaign manager to the 1992 Clinton transition, general counsel to the 1992 Democratic National Convention, finance director to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, traveling Chief of Staff to 2000 vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman and more.
She is one of a group of pioneering Black women, including Donna Brazile, Rev. Leah Daughtry, and others, with long resumes at the highest levels of Democratic politics who coalesced as advisers to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s campaign in the 1980s and have referred to themselves as “the Colored Girls” ever since. More than one of them has played a major role in pushing the Biden administration to appoint Black women to key positions in recent weeks.
Former Hillary Clinton adviser Minyon Moore, has emerged as something of a gatekeeper in the Biden transition, serving as a point of contact for Black organizers and helping usher women of color into key roles in Harris’s office and beyond.
Earlier this week, the transition team announced that two more Black women, Symone Sanders and Ashley Etienne, would serve as Harris’s spokeswoman and communications director, respectively. Sanders was courted by more than a handful of top Democrats as they launched presidential campaigns last year, and her pairing with Harris gives the Vice President-elect (and potential 2024 hopeful) one of the party’s more prominent, up-and-coming media envoys. Etienne served as a trusted adviser to both President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and she has established a reputation as a savvy behind-the-scenes operator.
Adding Flournoy to an office including Etienne and Sanders signals a desire to surround Harris with Washington experience. Well-connected among California’s political powerbrokers and hardened by the state’s rough-and-tumble Democratic politics, Harris is still relatively new to Washington. She had served about three years in the Senate when she joined the Democratic ticket, and she lacks the sprawling Washington roots that people like Biden had cultivated over decades.
Those close to Harris expected her former Senate and Campaign Chief of Staff Kosoglu to take the a major role in the Office of the Vice President, and she will do so as Harris’s primary policy adviser. Kosoglu became Harris’s Deputy Chief of Staff when Harris first joined the Senate in 2016 and has moved up the ranks of Harris’s inner circle in the years since.
That circle has remained small as Harris, who aides have described as slow to trust, has jumped from fresh-faced Senator to Vice President-elect. She will now be surrounded by operatives with lengthy Washington tenures, but little history with Harris herself.
Flournoy, Sanders, Etienne and others will now help Harris navigate what will likely be one of the more high-profile vice presidencies in recent history.
Activists from a variety of communities that have never been represented in that executive office hope she will use the job differently than many of her predecessors who served more as team players than agents of change. Women, Black leaders, and many others all see the potential for Harris to break away from destructive norms at the highest levels of government.
She will also be inaugurated as the understudy to a 79-year-old president who described himself as a “transitional” figure, cast by Republicans as Democrats’ heir apparent to the presidential throne. She is an early front-runner for the 2024 Democratic nomination should Biden opt out of a second term, making her conduct in the vice presidency crucial to remodeling her national brand.
Still, Biden allies will expect her to be loyal to the man who chose her as his running mate, all of which combines to place Harris at the nexus of several cross-currents through which even the most experienced DC operatives have rarely had to paddle. In Flournoy, Etienne, Sanders, and the rest, Harris has surrounded herself with a multigenerational cohort of prominent Democratic operatives who paved the way for Black women in politics and will now advise Harris, who will become the most powerful Black woman in American history when she is inaugurated in January.