Symone Sanders on Leaving Kamala Harris' Office for Cable TV: "I Just Felt It Was My Time"

MSNBC's newest host opens up about her new show, her wedding plans, and knowing when to make big moves. 

From Kamala Harris's Office to Prime Time: Why Symone Sanders Ditched Politics for News
Photo: Courtesy of Symone Sanders

Symone Sanders has about a million important political jobs under her belt.

She was Bernie Sanders' national press secretary during his 2016 presidential campaign. She joined Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign as a senior advisor. After he became president, she served as Vice President Kamala Harris' chief spokesperson, staunchly defending her boss when Harris was criticized for messaging missteps or a tough office environment. ("We are not making rainbows and bunnies all day," Sanders told Politico when asked about working for the VP.) But late last year, Sanders, 32, knew it was time to leave the White House, and her next step was pretty clear. As a kid in Nebraska, she had a newscaster alterego, Donna Burns, who'd "report live" using a kitchen spoon as a mic. Now, Donna — er, Symone — has her own show on MSNBC.

Her new politics-and-pop culture show, Symone, will air on Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m.; it premieres May 7 on MSNBC with an interview with the first lady Dr. Jill Biden and will be available on the Peacock streaming service come Monday. Sanders is more than ready.

From Kamala Harris's Office to Prime Time: Why Symone Sanders Ditched Politics for News
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Even as a spokesperson for politicians, Sanders has been a visible personality prime for airtime: She literally jumped onstage to keep a protestor from getting to the Bidens on Super Tuesday in 2020, later tweeting, "I broke a nail." And on the heels of leaving Bernie's campaign, she joined CNN as a commentator.

It is also fitting that, as a boldface millennial politico, she has landed at a network that is trying to court millennial viewers. Its president, Rashida Jones, who in 2021 became the first Black woman to run a cable news network, is a millennial herself.

Of course, if you're a millennial and cable news isn't part of your regular media diet, you're in very good company. Sanders has said that when she wakes up in the morning she checks Twitter and her texts, but doesn't turn on the TV. With her show, she wants to take buzzy conversations further than the polished soundbites viewers are used to. "I hate the talking points," she tells InStyle.

Sanders also says she wants to cover a wider range of topics and reach the "nonpolitical group chats," as she told The New York Times. This means whatever gets her fired up, from the Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp drama ("Why do we know so much about them?!") to The Real Housewives to the Met Gala. We can only hope that she'll do a segment on her own larger-than-life eyelashes, too.

Ahead, Sanders shares her plans for her show, her upcoming wedding, and more.

You served in VP Kamala Harris' office for a year. How did you know it was time to leave the White House?

First of all, I think this is a great question because every single time I have made a career move or career change, it has been because I just felt it was my time.

Prior to joining the president's campaign in 2019, I was a fellow at USC. I taught a class on Monday nights in Los Angeles, but I did not live in Los Angeles. I would fly in Sunday night, sometimes Monday morning, teach a two-hour class, have office hours the next day and meetings, have more office hours on Wednesday, then take a red-eye back to the East Coast. It was crazy. Who does that? Well, I did it. I went from that to working a presidential campaign in Philadelphia [while] I lived in D.C. I went from that campaign and flying all over the country to going between Washington, D.C., and Delaware because the President ran his transition out of Delaware. And I went from that to working at the White House under COVID.

Oh my goodness, COVID?! It was just a lot, so I was tired and I wanted a break. I'm also getting married this summer, and it's really important to me to be able to be an active participant in planning our wedding and to get my mind ready for the marriage that my fiancé [Shawn Townsend, who until recently worked for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser] and I are about to walk into.

Can you tell us a little more about your vision for the show?

We think of our show as the news you need to know from politics to pop culture. We're going to cover the stories that people care about who are not just D.C.-, New York-, L.A.-, San Francisco-based. We have done lots of interviews with local reporters in Florida, Georgia, Chicago. We're going to have a political panel, of course, but we'll also have a culture panel. Maybe your favorite White House reporter actually has a love of fashion and is a Met Gala fanatic, so we put them on the culture panel.

I built a career as a spokesperson for other people and helping them hone their message, getting out what they want to say, and correcting the record for them, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But now, with this show, it's just me. It's my show and I'm getting to say what I want to say and I'm crafting the conversation that I would like to have with the viewer and America.

With the news of the Supreme Court's draft decision on reversing Roe v. Wade hitting hard right now, what do you feel is missing from those conversations?

The discussion right now, if we go beyond the talking points, is about a woman — regardless of who that woman voted for, what political party she's affiliated with, what she believes, what God she prays to, where she lives — the ability of a woman to make a healthcare decision about her own body for herself. That is what we are missing. The reality is that if and when (and it seems like we're talking about when) Roe is overturned and the Supreme Court's decision becomes final, women across the country are going to lose the ability to make decisions about their healthcare, full stop. And every woman in America can't live in California. Every woman in America does not have the financial resources to get on a plane if the healthcare they need at that moment is an abortion.

I would also note the common discourse is leaving out the fact that we are also talking about the criminalization of women that need abortions, and the people who aid them, including their doctors. Abortion will be criminalized. [That's] something that keeps me up at night; it's something that I'm fired up about, so absolutely, I am going to unpack it and bring on the experts. This is a conversation that is crossing everybody's group chat.

MSNBC SOTU Anchors' Desk Including Symone Sanders
Symone Sanders, far right, covering the State of the Union address on MSNBC. Courtesy of Symone Sanders

In a preview of the show, Dr. Biden says she was shocked by the Supreme Court's abortion opinion. Is there anything else you can tell us to give us a preview of your interview with Dr. Biden?

We're going to touch on a range of topics in our time together, because I personally think Dr. Biden is fabulous. She is a woman who as the second lady of the United States of America was still working at her job. And then, while her husband was running for president, was working at her job. And now, as the first lady of the United States of America, she has a wide-ranging portfolio that involves military families, for example, and she's done a lot on COVID. She goes to work every day. She kept her job. I think in a world where so many women are being told that they can't necessarily have it all, you look at Dr. Biden and say, "Well, we can do something."

Other than the news, what are you reading and listening to these days? What's inspiring your "nonpolitical group chat" conversations?

I'm reading things like Complex, and I visit The Grio and The Root, and I get the Betches podcast — I'm an avid listener. I like The Shade Room just like the next girl out there.

You're getting married in August, to Washington, D.C.'s former "Night Mayor," on top of that! Could you give us a preview of the wedding?

Our wedding is going to be small. We're getting married in Playa del Carmen in Mexico, it is less than 65 people who are invited. We are also going to have an event the month before. Because our wedding is so small and it's in Mexico, we wanted to also do something in D.C. for our friends and family and colleagues in the States.

Just one more question: Are your pre-pandemic lashes back? I know you said you gave up on them in quarantine.

Oh my goodness, honey, the pre-pandemic lashes are here. As soon as I could, I went back to my lash lady. Her name's Molly. She's been my lash lady for so long. I couldn't do it. Me and the strips are not besties. I've tried it all. I've tried the magnetic liner. I've tried the magnetic strips. I just really have to get my lashes done, so I'm happy that I am going to see Molly on a regular basis.

Symone airs on MSNBC on Saturdays at 4 p.m. and will be available to stream on Peacock on Mondays.

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