Friday, October 17, 2014

 

President Obama Names Ron Klain 'Ebola Czar'

President Obama will tap veteran government insider Ron Klain to coordinate his administration's efforts to contain the Ebola virus, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday.

Klain, a former chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore who is well known by Obama and White House aides, is being selected for his management experience and contacts throughout the government, Earnest said.

"He is the right person for the job," Earnest said, particularly the challenge of "integrating the inter-agency response."

Klain's appointment marks a swift turnabout for Obama, who until Thursday had resisted calls to appoint a single official to run the government's response to Ebola.

Asked Thursday about the prospect of an "Ebola czar," Obama told reporters: "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 just to make sure that we're crossing all the T's and dotting all the I's going forward."

Obama did not specifically mention Klain's appointment during a Friday speech to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but said his administration is taking an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to fighting Ebola.

The administration has come under increased pressure to name an anti-Ebola coordinator in the wake of news that two nurses in Dallas had contracted the deadly virus. Both had been treating a man who died of Ebola.

Klain also played a high-profile file in Gore's 2000 presidential campaign; Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey portrayed him in an HBO movie on that year's Florida recount.

In his new role, Klain will be responsible for coordinating the administration's "whole of government" response to Ebola, a White House official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, pending a formal announcement of the appointment of what the administration is calling the "Ebola response coordinator."

The portfolio includes efforts to screen travelers from West African nations where Ebola has reached epidemic proportions and killed more than 4,500 people. Klain will also help coordinate the assistance that the U.S. military is providing in West Africa.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized Obama for entrusting the job to a former government manager rather than a professional.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., tweeted: "Worst ebola epidemic in world history and Pres. Obama puts a government bureaucrat with no healthcare experience in charge. Is he serious?"

Members of the public health community also expressed surprise.

"When are they going to stop making mistakes?," said Robert Murphy, the director of the Center for Global Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "We need a czar, but optimally, a strong public health expert. I am so disappointed. This is not what we need."

Physician Amesh Adalja, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said, "It's clear that there's a desperate desire for an organized approach to dealing with this outbreak. I don't necessarily think we need a disease specific czar — we have one for HIV — but more of an emerging infectious diseases/biosecurity coordinator who reports to the president."

Obama administration officials said the Ebola position is designed to be more managerial in nature, involving an array of government agencies ranging from the Pentagon to Health and Human Services.

"This is much broader than a medical response," Earnest said.

As for Republican criticism, Earnest joked "that's a shocking development." noted that national elections are less than three weeks away.

Klain may also weigh in on another question facing the administration: the prospect of a U.S. travel ban from West Africa nations where there have been Ebola outbreaks.

Obama and aides have disputed the need for a travel ban, questioning whether it would work and arguing that it might create unintended problems.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Obama said that experts in infectious diseases have told him that "a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting that involve screening passengers who are coming from West Africa."

Klain is expected to take a low key role publicly. Aides said that medical officials will continue to brief the public on their strategy to combat Ebola.

Klain will report to two top officials who have also been involved in the anti-Ebola effort: homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and national security adviser Susan Rice.

Obama is pleased with the work of Monaco and Rice, but "given their management of other national and homeland security priorities, additional bandwidth will further enhance the government's Ebola response," said a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity to explain the different roles.

The president has long known Klain, who helped prepare for debates with Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Klain has been out of government since leaving Biden's staff during Obama's first term.

The administration has come under increased pressure to name an anti-Ebola coordinator in the wake of news that two nurses in Dallas had contracted the deadly virus. Both had been treating a man who died of Ebola.

Klain is currently president of Case Holdings and general counsel at Revolution LLC, a technology venture capital firm based in Washington.

Steve Case, the America Online co-founder who is chairman of Revolution LLC, praised Klain in a statement issued along with his wife Jean.

"Ron is a talented manager and a wise counselor who understands government, business, and the non-profit sectors," the Cases said. "We wish him the best as he takes on this important task, and we look forward to welcoming him back soon."

Obama did not specifically mention Klain's appointment during a Friday speech to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but said his administration is taking an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to fighting Ebola.

The administration has come under increased pressure to name an anti-Ebola coordinator in the wake of news that two nurses in Dallas had contracted the deadly virus. Both had been treating a man who died of Ebola.

Klain also played a high-profile file in Gore's 2000 presidential campaign; Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey portrayed him in an HBO movie on that year's Florida recount.

In his new role, Klain will be responsible for coordinating the administration's "whole of government" response to Ebola, a White House official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, pending a formal announcement of the appointment of what the administration is calling the "Ebola response coordinator."

The portfolio includes efforts to screen travelers from West African nations where Ebola has reached epidemic proportions and killed more than 4,500 people. Klain will also help coordinate the assistance that the U.S. military is providing in West Africa.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized Obama for entrusting the job to a former government manager rather than a professional.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., tweeted: "Worst ebola epidemic in world history and Pres. Obama puts a government bureaucrat with no healthcare experience in charge. Is he serious?"

Members of the public health community also expressed surprise.

"When are they going to stop making mistakes?," said Robert Murphy, the director of the Center for Global Health at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "We need a czar, but optimally, a strong public health expert. I am so disappointed. This is not what we need."

Physician Amesh Adalja, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said, "It's clear that there's a desperate desire for an organized approach to dealing with this outbreak. I don't necessarily think we need a disease specific czar — we have one for HIV — but more of an emerging infectious diseases/biosecurity coordinator who reports to the president."

Obama administration officials said the Ebola position is designed to be more managerial in nature, involving an array of government agencies ranging from the Pentagon to Health and Human Services.

"This is much broader than a medical response," Earnest said.

As for Republican criticism, Earnest joked "that's a shocking development." noted that national elections are less than three weeks away.

Klain may also weigh in on another question facing the administration: the prospect of a U.S. travel ban from West Africa nations where there have been Ebola outbreaks.

Obama and aides have disputed the need for a travel ban, questioning whether it would work and arguing that it might create unintended problems.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Obama said that experts in infectious diseases have told him that "a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting that involve screening passengers who are coming from West Africa."

Klain is expected to take a low key role publicly. Aides said that medical officials will continue to brief the public on their strategy to combat Ebola.

Klain will report to two top officials who have also been involved in the anti-Ebola effort: homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and national security adviser Susan Rice.

Amid mounting pressure to name someone to spearhead the administration's response to the Ebola crisis, President Obama announced on Friday that he plans to appoint Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden's former chief-of staff, as his Ebola czar, ABC News has confirmed.

Klain, who also served as chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore, now works as general counsel at Revolution LLC.

The White House had previously already assigned Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, a lawyer with a background in federal law enforcement, criminal prosecution and crisis response, to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies responsible for addressing an outbreak on American soil.

But by Thursday evening, Obama signaled his openness to naming a czar.

"The truth is, is that up until this point the individuals here have been running point and doing an outstanding job in dealing with what is a very complicated and fluid situation," Obama said.

However, "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 just to make sure that we’re crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s going forward," he added.

Klain will report directly to Monaco and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, according to a White House official.

Here are five things you should know about Klain:

1. General Counsel: As general counsel for the Gore Recount Committee, Klain was at the forefront of the 2000 “hanging chad” controversy, aiding in the Gore campaign’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to clinch Florida’s 25 electoral votes.

2. Chief of Staff: As Biden’s chief of staff, he helped oversee implementation of the Recovery Act, the stimulus package enacted in 2009.

3. Debate Prep Advisor: Klain also served as a top debate prep adviser for Presidents Obama and Clinton as well as Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry.

4. Private Sector: He left the White House in 2011 to become president of Case Holdings and general counsel at Revolution LLC, a technology-oriented venture capital firm founded by AOL co-founder Steve Case.

5. Education: He’s a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Byron White.

President Obama Names Ron Klain 'Ebola Czar'
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