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First on CNN: Kirsten Allen to serve as Harris’ new press secretary

By Jasmine Wright, CNN

Kirsten Allen will be Vice President Kamala Harris‘ new press secretary, leaving her current role as national press secretary for Covid-19 response at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Kirsten brings a unique blend of talents as a communicator, as well as a history with the vice president,” communications director Jamal Simmons told CNN, confirming the hire. “So, we feel very fortunate that we’re going to be able to bring together two people, both Ernie (Apreza) and Kirsten, who’ve worked for the vice president before. They will bring that history as well as loyalty and ability to this job.”

In an email sent to staff Wednesday morning and obtained by CNN, Simmons said Allen would be starting with the team “in a few days,” as the lead spokesperson focusing on national news outlets and other audiences.

Allen’s new high-profile job will mark her return to Harris-world. She served as the deputy national press secretary and African American media director for then-Sen. Harris’ Democratic presidential campaign during the 2019 primary. And she also served as the communications director on the US House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, as well as deputy communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

A seasoned Democratic staffer, Allen’s hire comes after the press secretary role in Harris’ shop remained vacant for months. Symone Sanders departed the office in December, more than a month after Ashley Etienne, the former communications director, also left.

More recently, the addition of Allen follows the high-profile exit of deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh, who is headed to the Pentagon. Singh was Harris’ longest serving press staffer, having joined then-Sen. Harris’ orbit as senior adviser for her Fearless for the People political action committee in 2020.

By many accounts, Harris suffered a turbulent first year in office, due in part to missteps and messaging failures. And some in the vice president’s orbit placed at least part of the blame on Harris’ staff.

Allen will be filling one of the last major holes on Harris’ communications team.

A source familiar with the office says Allen’s expansive knowledge of Harris helps fill the void of longevity Singh’s departure creates, as the office looks to continue to find ways to shape Harris’ vice presidency.

“With Sabrina leaving, it will be helpful to have people who have a longer history with [Harris] because Sabrina brought that to the office,” the source said, highlighting the merits of having some staffers with a longer perspective of their boss’s career.

Allen’s hire also comes amid a larger communications team reshuffling.

Last week, the office announced that Herbie Ziskend would become a senior adviser for communications, a promotion from his current role as deputy communications director. Rachel Palermo, who worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign and on the Biden-Harris transition, would take Ziskend’s previous role and focus on the day-to-day operations of the communications shop.

And Apreza, who previously served on the Biden-Harris campaign and Harris’ own Democratic presidential campaign, was named deputy press secretary after working as a senior adviser in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Allen’s hire marks a press shop almost complete. Still missing is a speech writer, after Kate Childs Graham left last month.

While Harris had what some described as a frustrating first year in office, the latest staff changes follow her recent trip to Poland, during which she avoided any public discord and generated little Republican criticism. Harris was prepared and engaged on the trip as she worked to smooth over a dust-up with Poland over questions about sending fighter jets through the US to Ukraine.

Simmons said Harris is expected to continue her effort to do more national television and print interviews.

“From the first conversation I had with the Vice President, she wanted to increase her visibility, particularly with people who don’t live in Washington, DC,” Simmons said, “and so we have been focused as a team on communicating with Americans across the country, not just inside the beltway.”

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