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Top Harris aide Symone Sanders expected to leave in second high-level departure from VP's office

Sanders is the second senior official expected to leave the vice president's office this month.
Joe Biden,Symone Sanders
Joe Biden listens with senior adviser Symone Sanders speaks during a campaign event, in Iowa City, Iowa, on Jan. 27, 2020.Matt Rourke / AP file

WASHINGTON — Symone Sanders, a senior adviser and the chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris, is expected to leave her position at the end of the month, a White House official and four other sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Her departure would mark the second high-level exit from Harris’ office in recent weeks. Ashley Etienne, the vice president's communications director, announced last month that she would leave in December.

A White House official said Wednesday that Sanders had "served honorably" for three years, first as a part of President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign and then on the transition team before joining the vice president's office.

The official said the president and vice president were "grateful" for Sanders' work on behalf of the administration and called her a "team player" who will be missed.

Sanders' plans beyond the vice president's office were not immediately known.

Politico and CNN previously reported Sanders' departure.

Although it is not uncommon for White House aides to leave a year into a new administration, the two senior-level departures come as Harris has struggled to define her role as vice president. In recent weeks, Harris has had to navigate a number of unflattering media stories that have portrayed a difficult internal work dynamic and have raised questions about her future as a party leader should Biden decide to not seek re-election in 2024.

Sanders has been one of the more vocal defenders of the vice president, particularly on topics such as Harris's work on immigration with the countries known as the Northern Triangle. Sanders repeatedly pushed back on Republican attempts to tie Harris to the migration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

With both Sanders and Etienne leaving, some outside allies of the vice president are hoping Harris can use the opportunity to bring in new leadership to help with what they view as a much-needed reset going into a midterm election year. Some allies have said 2022 will be an important opportunity for Harris to define her place in the administration and the party as a whole.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday defended Sanders' decision to leave and pushed back against suggestions that it spoke to larger problems within the vice president's office.

"It's natural for staffers who have thrown their heart and soul into a job to be ready to move on to a new challenge after a few years," Psaki said. "It is also an opportunity — as it is in any White House — to bring in new faces, new voices and new perspectives. And I expect you'll hear more from the vice president’s office in due time."

It is unclear who will fill the top communications roles in the vice president's office. In September, Harris brought on Lorraine Voles and Adam Frankel, two veteran Democratic strategists, to help with her communications strategy.