President Obama today turned to a trusted lawyer and political operative to become the nation’s “Ebola czar,” charged with managing the effort to contain the deadly virus.
Obama’s pick, Ron Klain, oversaw implementation in 2009 of what proved to be the president’s largely ineffective $800 billion economic stimulus package while chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden.
Klain’s official title will be Ebola response coordinator.
Although Klain has no background in public health or health care, Obama apparently expects the job to be a managerial role.
“What we were looking for was not an Ebola expert, but rather an implementation expert,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, when asked about Klain’s lack of medical background.
His presence will free up Tom Frieden, the much-criticized director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to focus on medical functions in addressing the advent of Ebola cases in the U.S.
James Jay Carafano, a leading national security expert at The Heritage Foundation, sketched out how Klain could fare better than Frieden.
“The number one task of a point person for the president on any public health crisis or disaster response is to communicate clearly, effectively and honestly with the American people,” Carafano told The Daily Signal, “while assisting the president in ensuring federal agencies are working effectively with state and local authorities to prevent outbreaks here.”
Klain, currently president of investment firm Case Holdings and general counsel of its venture capital group Revolution, also was chief of staff to Al Gore when he was vice president. He acted as lead Democratic lawyer for Gore during the recount of the Florida vote in the 2000 presidential election.
“I’ve known Ron Klain for over 20 years,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “He is smart, aggressive and levelheaded; exactly the qualities we need in a czar to steer our response to Ebola.”
Others were not so sure. Policy experts at The Heritage Foundation, which opposed most of Obama’s “stimulus” spending, were wary.
“It’s nothing if not a bad omen that President Obama is appointing the guy who had a key role in implementing the massively wasteful spending program, known as the stimulus, to be his Ebola czar,” Romina Boccia, the think tank’s lead expert on the federal budget, told The Daily Signal. Boccia added: “It should make Congress especially wary of heeding any requests for massive new spending to address Ebola. It’s not new spending that’s needed, but better prioritization of existing funds.”
Some critics singled out Klain’s signing off on a taxpayer-backed, $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra, the soon-to-fail solar company headed by Obama backers.
At one point, Klain seemed to shrug off the experience.
“The reality is that if [President Obama] visited 10 such places over the next 10 months, probably a few would be belly-up by election day 2012,” Klain said, “but that to me is the reality of saying that we want to help promote cutting-edge, new economy industries.”
“Klain was dismissive of the risk involved with Solyndra, and as a result dismissive of wasting over half a billion dollars in taxpayer money,” said Nicolas Loris, a Heritage economist who specializes in energy and environmental policy.
Klain will report directly to two other trusted Obama aides: White House Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
In comments to reporters about Frieden and CDC yesterday, Obama had hinted at the need for a point person to manage the federal response to the virus.
“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person, not because they haven’t been doing an outstanding job, really working hard on this issue, but they are also responsible for a whole bunch of other stuff,” Obama said.
He said an Ebola czar would make sense “just to make sure that we are crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s going forward.”
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