News & Politics

Gloom Sets In at the White House as Aides Head for the Exits

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Working at the White House is a high-stress job, no doubt. It’s also the kind of job that encourages burnout after a couple of years given the workload and pressures.

But Politico is reporting that there is a mass exodus of White House aides brewing, and it’s not entirely due to burnout.

The Politico report comes the same month in which an article detailing turmoil and high turnover in Vice President Kamala Harris’s office appeared.

Turnover in White House staff after the first year is expected. Some aides only take the job to pad their resumes. Others use the White House as a stepping stone to another coveted staff job in Congress or various government agencies.

Related: Is the White House in Crisis?

But the coming mass resignations of Biden White House staffers appear to be driven by other factors.

Some staffers say it’s the result of an insular, top-heavy White House of longtime Biden aides who are distant from much of the staff — “no new friends in Biden world,” goes the refrain. And others say it’s just poor management.

The small perks of working in the White House, like the chance to take part in holiday parties and ceremonies, have also been in short supply. For the White House’s Independence Day party, most White House staff could only attend if they worked as unpaid volunteers staffing the event, per an email from White House operations sent at the time and shared with us. For the Thanksgiving turkey pardoning and the Christmas tree lighting, attendance was doled out via a lottery system, leaving out many White House aides.

Another sticking point for staffers was the traditional holiday tours set aside for White House staff and their families. It rubbed staff the wrong way that they were treated like tourists.

The White House also used a lottery to dole out time slots for holidays tours this week, setting aside three days when staffers could bring their family members to see the building’s elaborate Christmas decor. Most were understanding of the restrictions, until White House Operations asked for volunteers to staff five extra day of tours for non-White House staff. Some staffers fumed as “D.C. Randos” posted White House pictures across social media this week, believing that White House staff should have been taken care of first.

“No one expects business as usual during the pandemic, but it’s beyond demoralizing, it’s insulting — especially when you see DNC and Hill staff and other D.C. types get invited,” explained a White House official who was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk to us. “Many colleagues have brought this up to me unprompted. And I’ve had D.C. friends ask me if I wanted to grab coffee after they attended. Meanwhile, we work here, and most of us haven’t worked here before or stepped foot into the White House.”

Staff gripes about a busy workplace are nothing new in politics or anywhere else. But these are supposed to be the president’s true believers, and to talk about leaving after less than a year should set off alarm bells among senior aides who are apparently treating those lower on the staff totem pole with little respect.

Some presidents have reportedly been impossible to work for — Nixon and Truman were both supposed to be SOBs to the staff. Biden himself may be a reasonable man, but his top aides apparently are not.