You couldn’t ask for a more clear signal that President Obama views Ebola as an entirely political problem than his sudden announcement of a hard-core Democrat political operative with absolutely zero medical experience as the new “Ebola Czar.” This is such a weird move that you’ve got to wonder why he did it. The only certain conclusion is that it has very little to do with keeping Americans safe from Ebola.
Upon hearing that political operative Ron Klain had been tapped for this job, I immediately wondered why Obama wasn’t announcing the termination, and possibly punishment, of the Ebola Czar he already has: Dr. Nicole Lurie, the extremely unprepared and utterly non-responsive Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services, a perch she has held from July 2009 until her disappearance five seconds after the Ebola crisis began. But no, according to Fox News, she’s still around, incredibly still consuming precious taxpayer resources despite having no contribution to the primary reason her job exists, suffering nothing worse than having to watch a hack who specializes at bare-knuckle politics vaulted into position above her:
Responding to growing calls to appoint an “Ebola czar” to lead America’s battle against the deadly virus, sources confirm to Fox News that President Obama plans to name Ron Klain, a longtime political hand with no apparent medical or health care background.
He did, however, serve as chief of staff to Al Gore and later Vice President Biden.
In making the appointment, Obama will effectively bypass another official, Dr. Nicole Lurie, who has served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services since July 2009.
Congress, nearly a decade ago, created that post, which would seem to fit the bill for Ebola coordinator — at least on paper.
Yet, as Obama prepares to name Klain, the senior official currently filling that health job has been virtually absent from the public eye. She’s on the team, the Obama administration insists — just not in the lead.
A spokesman with HHS told Fox News that Lisa Monaco, the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, is still playing an “overall coordinating role” from the White House. But in addition to roles played by other agencies, “Dr. Lurie and her team in ASPR are dealing primarily with advance development of countermeasures, [Public Health Service] deployment, and hospital outreach.”
In other words, Lurie is part of the cast but by no means a central character.
This isn’t reassuring – it’s a straight-up insult to the American people. We’ll get a Beltway spinner installed above the existing six-figure officials who dropped every ball Ebola tossed them? Obama just named a political officer to manage the Cabinet secretaries who managed the CDC director who managed to lose control of Ebola.
One could make the case that management has been more deficient than medicine in the Ebola response thus far, and doctors don’t always make the best managers. That’s not an unreasonable argument, although it begs the question of why the existing layers of management haven’t been able to deal with a problem that so far encompasses fewer people that can be found traveling the President’s entourage when he does a fundraiser. If Lurie’s position is redundant, it should be eliminated, distributing its financial and human resources to more effective offices; and if CDC Director Tom Frieden can’t handle his job, he should be replaced. The solution is not to install yet another layer of supervision atop a Table of Organization that already looks like a spiderweb.
But that’s exactly the sort of solution that appeals to a President who very rarely concedes that anyone in his Administration has made a mistake, or perpetrated a scandal. His internal polls are probably being delivered by guys in hazmat suits who handle the papers with iron tongs these days, so he had to do something. The only thing it would ever occur to Obama to do is create a new office, while congratulating everyone already occupying a perch in the hierarchy for a job well done.
In any event, the idea of bringing more management skills to the Ebola problem doesn’t square very well with Klain’s resume. He was involved in Al Gore’s recount shenanigans in 2000, served as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, was mixed up in the Solyndra disaster, and had a role in doling out funds from Obama’s “stimulus” debacle. (I wonder if he ever kicked back with the President and shared a laugh about how there’s no such thing as “shovel-ready jobs” after all?) He’s a political fixer, not a manager, and unless we’re looking to bankrupt Ebola, there’s not much in his list of accomplishments that makes him seem like the perfect man for the job. He’s a hardened Party loyalist, not a crisis manager, which makes one suspect Obama is gearing up for political battles ahead – from the final weeks of the midterm election season, and into the next Congress – rather than epidemiology. This is the kind of play you make if you’re worried about protecting the lavish funding of HHS from critics armed with lists of frivolous spending.
It’s also a sop to rally dispirited liberals, who are racing to their keyboards to bang out praise for Klain… especially those Klain has personally praised on social media over the years. A partisan food fight and clash of personalities is just the thing to drag this dreary Ebola-laced news cycle through the Sunday shows. The first cream pies have already been thrown, as Byron York at the Washington Examiner quotes Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) describing Klain’s appointment as “incredibly disappointing”:
“It would disappoint me to think that this administration would appoint someone who is in the communications arena,” Blackburn said shortly after learning the news Friday morning, “and is not someone with experience in emergency response, with experience in public health, that has managed an outbreak or an epidemic or a pandemic or some such situation. That is what is needed right now.”
Blackburn said the “exponential growth” in the number of Americans affected by Ebola, from the two patients with the disease to the hundreds who are under some sort of watch, calls for a more vigorous response. The appointment of Klain, perhaps best known as Al Gore’s top staffer in the battle over the 2000 presidential election, is not the sort of vigorous response Blackburn and others had in mind. “The American people want the confidence that someone who understands infectious disease is in charge,” she said.
A few days of people digging up crazy things Klain has said about the 2000 elections should make for a fine distraction, a shot of grease to get the wheels of the news cycle turning again. Meanwhile, I doubt the American people will be terribly reassured by a fresh political appointment, and probably wouldn’t have much more cheered if Klain’s post had been given to a brilliant doctor or non-partisan problem solver. They’re looking for Obama to take charge and do something, not appoint someone to handle talk-show fallout. They’re not really looking for the coaching staff to be reshuffled – they want to see some new plays on the field. Since the play clock is already running, we can only hope we get through the next week without any more bad news.
Update: Add Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to the list of those disappointed by the new Ebola Czar, as reported by the Washington Times:
???This is a public health crisis, and the answer isn???t another White House political operative,??? Mr. Cruz said. ???The answer is a commander in chief who stands up and leads, banning flights from Ebola-afflicted nations and acting decisively to secure our southern border.???
[…] Mr. Cruz said the Ebola outbreak shouldn???t be treated as ???yet another partisan battle by the White House.
???Rather, we should come together in bipartisan unity to take these common-sense steps to protect the American people,??? he said. ???And if the president will not act, if he will not lead, then Congress should immediately reconvene for an emergency session to enact a flight ban and take any other necessary measures to protect the health and safety of Americans.???
Which is probably another reason Obama picked Klain: he wants a partisan street fighter to hold up resistance against a travel ban for as long as possible.
Update: The Hill notes that the White House was fast out of the gate in “mocking” Republicans who dare to criticize the selection of Klain:
The White House dismissed Republican criticism of the selection of longtime Democratic aide Ron Klain to head the federal Ebola response, suggesting the GOP was “seeking to score political points” before Election Day.
“That’s a shocking development there,” press secretary Josh Earnest said when told Republican lawmakers had criticized the selection of Klain because he does not have a public health background.
“Three weeks before an Election Day, and Republicans are seeking to score political points,” Earnest said. “Stop the presses!”
That goes a long way towards demonstrating that Klain was chosen primarily as an act of political trolling; they put him out there because they knew what Republicans would say about him.