The trajectory of the Republicans’ “czars” argument has been a sight to behold. In the first couple of years of the Obama presidency, GOP lawmakers were absolutely convinced that these policy coordinators, common in the Clinton and Bush administrations, were an outrageous and unconstitutional abuse. Over the last few weeks, however, Republicans changed their minds, demanded that the president name an Ebola “czar” without delay.
So, the president did just that on Friday, introducing Ron Klain as the official who’ll help oversee the federal response, prompting a brand new round of GOP complaints.
At this point, we can point to four specific areas of concern raised by the right since Friday afternoon.
1. Klain is not a scientist or medical professional.
2. Klain is a political “operative,” comparable to Karl Rove.
3. Klain helped implement the Recovery Act.
4. We don’t need an Ebola czar at all.
I can’t say with any confidence what will happen next when it comes to the U.S. response to Ebola, but if these are the best complaints the right can come up with, conservatives are going to need some better talking points.
Let’s take these one at a time.
First, Klain’s expertise is in government, and more specifically, navigating the federal bureaucracy. If the president were hiring someone to conduct medical research on a virus, hiring an expert in infectious disease would be obvious, but the goal of this policy coordinator is to – you guessed it – coordinate policy.
Indeed, this is an especially curious line of attack from Republicans, given that GOP lawmakers had urged Obama to nominate Colin Powell for the position – and Powell has exactly as much scientific background as Klain, which is to say, zero. So which is it? Why would a Republican with no expertise in medicine be fine, but a Democrat with no expertise in medicine be outrageous?
Second, Klain is not the progressive version of Karl Rove. Klain is a Harvard-trained lawyer, a former Supreme Court clerk, a former congressional aide, a former Justice Department official, and a former chief of staff to two vice presidents. Klain has done campaign work, but it’s never been his principal focus. Rather, he’s a manager who knows how Washington works – which is why he got this job.
Third, the fact that Klain helped implement the Recovery Act is evidence of his qualifications, not the lack thereof. The stimulus not only helped rescue the country from the Great Recession, the entire endeavor was also run exceptionally well. This only reinforces the impression that Klain is an effective manager who knows how to oversee an ambitious federal endeavor.
Finally, Republicans are going to have to make up their minds about the necessity of these “czars.” GOP lawmakers spent weeks demanding that the president appoint an Ebola “czar,” and when the president did, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded, “We don’t need another so-called ‘czar.’”
Take it up with your GOP brethren, Ted.