Speaking in the Oval Office on Thursday, President Barack Obama expressed his willingness to consider appointing a single individual responsible for overseeing all efforts to contain the spread of Ebola in the United States.
“It may make sense for us to have one person, in part just so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process to make sure we’re crossing all t’s and dotting all the i’s,” the president said.
Within hours of these remarks, the president apparently determined that it did make sense to create an “Ebola Czar.” On Friday, that is precisely what he did.
Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to both Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, has been tapped to oversee the nation’s response to the Ebola crisis.
This report via CNN’s Jake Tapper reveals why the president has placed so much faith in this White House fixer:
Klain is highly regarded at the White House as a good manager with excellent relationships both in the administration and on Capitol Hill. His supervision of the allocation of funds in the stimulus act — at the time and incredible and complicated government undertaking — is respected in Washington. He does not have any extensive background in health care but the job is regarded as a managerial challenge.
A former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden and also to then-Vice President Al Gore, Klain is currently president of Case Holdings and General Counsel of Revolution, an investment group. He has clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court and headed up Gore’s effort during the 2000 Florida recount. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Klain is charged to ensure that efforts to detect, isolate & treat Ebola patients coordinated with US steps to stop Ebola at its source.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) October 17, 2014
Klain is also a veteran of Democratic Party politics. He worked closely with President Bill Clinton and helped him prepare for the 1992 debates and ran Gore’s “war room” during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Working on public health policy may be a new role for Klain, but he may also find the job of Ebola Czar to be a redundant one.
According to The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, the United States already has an individual in charge of managing America’s response to Ebola – as well as any other infectious disease outbreak — both domestically and abroad.
So, we have an office for public health threat preparedness and response. And one of HHS’ eight assistant secretaries is the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, whose job it is to “lead the nation in preventing, responding to and recovering from the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters, ranging from hurricanes to bioterrorism.”
In the video below, the woman who heads that office, Dr. Nicole Lurie, explains that the responsibilities of her office are “to help our country prepare for, respond to and recover from public health threats.” She says her major priority is to help the country prepare for emergencies and to “have the countermeasures—the medicines or vaccines that people might need to use in a public health emergency. So a large part of my office also is responsible for developing those countermeasures.”
Or, as National Journal rather glowingly puts it, “Lurie’s job is to plan for the unthinkable. A global flu pandemic? She has a plan. A bioterror attack? She’s on it. Massive earthquake? Yep. Her responsibilities as assistant secretary span public health, global health, and homeland security.” A profile of Lurie quoted her as saying, “I have responsibility for getting the nation prepared for public health emergencies—whether naturally occurring disasters or man-made, as well as for helping it respond and recover. It’s a pretty significant undertaking.” Still another refers to her as “the highest-ranking federal official in charge of preparing the nation to face such health crises as earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and pandemic influenza.”
“So why has the top official for public health threats been sidelined in the midst of the Ebola crisis?” Hemingway asks. “Only the not-known-for-transparency Obama administration knows for sure.”
Klain’s new role may be a little superfluous, but the aim here is, and will continue to be, to assuage an apprehensive American public. Prepare for more half measures like these in the near future.
UPDATE: RedState’s Dan McLaughlin has a great point:
Maybe Ron Klain will do a good job, but for perspective, imagine Bush putting Karl Rove in charge of Katrina recovery in October 2006.
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) October 17, 2014
Some have observed that a better comparison may be former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff: Scooter Libby.
Those on the left who are admonishing the right for making Klain’s appointment a political issue are ignoring the fact that his appointment is inherently political.