On December 1st, 2020, American University students attended a virtual webinar with special guest speaker, Symone Sanders. A member of the upcoming Biden administration, the political strategist will spend the next four years as both Senior Advisor and Chief Spokesperson for VP Elect Kamala Harris. The event, which was co-hosted by AU’s Kennedy Political Union (KPU), Women’s Initiative (WI), and the Women & Politics Institute, included a Q&A session moderated by Professor Candice Nelson. Before the Q&A, student journalists had the opportunity to interview Sanders.
Below is a transcript of HCAU’s interview.
Her Campus American: How do you see your role in the upcoming Biden administration?
Symone Sanders: As I tweeted Sunday, I feel very honored and humbled to be able to serve, so that is my role here. I serve at the pleasure of the President and the Vice President, [that is] President Elect [Biden] and the Vice President Elect [Harris], to be clear, because there is only one President and one Vice President at a time. I do not serve at the pleasure of the current President [Trump] and Vice President [Pence] of the United States of America, but the next.
The team that we have put together and that we are building, because to be clear, there will be more White House staff announcements to come, is a team that has a lot of work to do. There are a lot of challenges that our country is facing at one time. It’s not just an economic crisis, or not just a public health crisis. There is an economic crisis, and a public health crisis, and a climate crisis, and a crisis of racial injustice in our country. That’s a lot of work to do, on all fronts, and it’s all happening at one time.
So, I am here to serve. I’m here to be a part of the team, and be a team player, and to really execute the mission that President Elect Biden and VP Elect Harris have laid out for us, and that is building back better. We have to rebuild our economy, [work on] uniting this country, restoring the soul of our nation, and putting together policies that really affect the lives of people every single day, but make sure that we are bringing everyone along… That’s a lot of work to do, and I’m up for the challenge.
HCAU: How was the 2020 campaign trail different from when you were the National Press Secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders [no relation] during the 2016 presidential campaign?
Sanders: There was a pandemic, first and foremost. I think that the fact that we had to run a general election campaign in the midst of a global pandemic, a deadly pandemic, if you will. A pandemic of which the knowledge that the American people had over the course of six months changed drastically. [This] was something no one else had ever had to do before, and certainly something I did not experience in 2015-2016. I think that was the most visible difference in this particular election, and so much was on the line. Our democracy was on the line this election.
In 2015-2016, folks were having conversations on the campaign trail about the theoretical idea of a Trump presidency, about theoretically, “This is what Trump’s temperament could mean for the country.” In 2020, the conversation was not theoretical. We were talking in actuality… “This is what President Trump’s temperament means for the country.” “This is how it directly affects you,” and chief among those things is this pandemic…
Having to operate a campaign in this moment was just so different than in 2015-2016. Frankly, [by 2020] Donald Trump had a track record [as President], and so we believed this election was actually a referendum on President Trump… That voters had a choice in November, and it was a choice between the leadership that they had seen over the last four years, and the leadership and the vision that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had provided over the last couple of months…
Millions of Americans went to the polls, and they voted for the leadership of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
HCAU: Under the Trump administration, many Americans have lost faith in the office of the White House Press Secretary and the presidential communications team overall. In your role in the Biden administration, how do you hope to rebuild this trust?
Sanders: I am just so excited that America gets to hear from fact-based truth tellers like Jen Psaki and Karine Jean-Pierre, because that is what they will have at the podium in the White House briefing room. We take our jobs very seriously, and the charge that we have from the President Elect and the VP Elect is one of honesty, of truthfulness, of transparency, of meeting the challenges, and rising to the occasion. That is what we plan to do across the spectrum in the White House when it comes to communication. I am very confident [of] Karine and Jen, that they have it in the bag.
HCAU: What would you say to naysayers of an all-female WH communications team?
Sanders: Just watch us. [laughs]
At only 30 years old, Symone Sanders is already a major power player in American politics. From working on Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2015 to her position in the new Biden-Harris administration, she has demonstrated how having a tireless work ethic can lead to the White House.
Apart from discussing her accomplishments, Sanders recounted the challenges she’s faced in her career. When starting out in the media industry, she was told to get voice lessons because “people aren’t used to hearing voices like yours when they turn on the television.” Luckily, Sanders refused to be anything but herself, adding that “If I had listened to that advice, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Photos: Her Campus Media