Congressional Republicans, eager to make Ebola a campaign issue, have been clamoring for two things: a travel ban to West Africa and an Ebola "czar." The former would likely make the public-health problem worse
, while the latter is ironic given how much energy these same GOP lawmakers invested in decrying
the existence of czars.
President Barack Obama will appoint Ron Klain to head up efforts to address the Ebola threat, a senior administration official tells NBC News. Klain is a former chief of staff to both Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Al Gore. He left the vice president's office in 2011. He is now the president of Case Holdings and serves as the general counsel for Revolution, an investment organization.
Obama signaled his openness to appointing an Ebola "czar" Thursday night, telling reporters that it "may be appropriate" to elevate an additional person to coordinate the U.S. response.
Klain, who was among top contenders to replace Jack Lew as the White House chief of staff last year, certainly knows his way around the bureaucracy of the executive branch. As best as I can tell, he has no background in public health, but that's not really the point -- this appears to be a job intended to oversee government agencies, which Klain understands well
Will Republican respond positively? Probably not. Tommy Thompson, a HHS Secretary under Bush/Cheney, is already using this as evidence to bash Obama
all over again -- if the president wants a new policy coordinator on Ebola now, Thompson's argument goes, it must mean the president put the wrong officials in place before.
I can only assume the GOP lawmakers who hated czars, only to demand more czars, will go back to hating czars again by the end of the day.
Stepping back, it would be interesting to learn more about the White House's deliberations that led to this decision. The truth is, the administration resisted the "czar" idea for weeks because, they argued, it just wasn't necessary -- the relevant agencies have been hard at work, and Lisa Monaco, a homeland security adviser, has served as the point person in charge of "interagency response
Why the shift? We may never know for sure, but it's not unreasonable to wonder if Klain was brought in because the existing bureaucratic structure needs a new coordinator to oversee the process, or because the West Wing wants to demonstrate administrative "action" to shape public impressions?
The New York Times
reported today on the White House adopting a "drop-everything approach
" to Ebola that includes cancelling events, assembling a cabinet meeting, and reaching out extensively to policymakers in both parties.
President Obama remained at the White House on Thursday to focus on the government's response to Ebola, canceling a second day of election-season travel as the administration concentrated on what is already turning into a political as well as a public health crisis. [...] After a nearly two-hour meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama offered extended remarks on the Ebola situation, promising that the government would be closely monitoring anyone who might be at risk of the disease and suggesting that he is considering appointing an official to oversee the crisis. Mr. Obama said that he had been in touch with Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, where one of the infected nurses traveled by plane. Mr. Obama also participated in a conference call with workers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stationed in Atlanta, Dallas and West Africa.
It's against this backdrop that a new "czar" is being introduced.
When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) whined
yesterday about the president's "detached response to the Ebola crisis," the governor's rhetoric seemed even more ridiculous than usual.