White House Touts Ebola Czar Ron Klain’s Ties to Congress (Updated)
Updated 12:23 p.m. | President Barack Obama has picked Ron Klain to be the Ebola czar, according to the White House, a move that appears aimed at quelling a firestorm from Congress and the public over the handling of the crisis.
Klain is a longtime Washingtonian and Harvard-educated lawyer who previously served as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s chief of staff. He isn’t known for his work in health care, but the White House emphasized his management background and relationships with Congress.
But congressional criticism of the pick came almost immediately via Twitter.
“Worst ebola epidemic in world history and Pres. Obama puts a government bureaucrat with no healthcare experience in charge. Is he serious?” tweeted Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., an anesthesiologist.
Worst ebola epidemic in world history and Pres. Obama puts a government bureaucrat with no healthcare experience in charge. Is he serious?
— Rep. Andy Harris, MD (@RepAndyHarrisMD) October 17, 2014
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was the first out of the gate to laud the pick.
“I’ve known Ron Klain for over twenty years,” he said in a statement. “He is smart, aggressive, and levelheaded; exactly the qualities we need in a czar to steer our response to Ebola. He is an excellent choice.”
Klain also has a sense of public relations — something the White House could use given the harsh criticism of officials who have been the face of the Ebola response, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who has been calling for an Ebola coordinator since early September, said Klain “understands the importance of clear communications to the containment of a crisis like this.”
Klain’s congressional experience includes stints as staff director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Committee, and the chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it’s not clear how strong his ties are to the House.
An aide to Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, was unaware of any Klain ties to the House, but said the White House did give Boehner’s office notice about the pick.
It’s also not entirely clear yet what the Obama administration will be seeking from Congress — although Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted yesterday that Congress controls the purse strings.
Democrats have been pushing for more funding for public health and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the CDC should get the money it needs to battle the Ebola virus.
Unlike, say, a new surgeon general, Klain’s newly created position does not need Senate confirmation — a bonus given that the Senate is in the middle of a lengthy pre-election recess.
The news was first reported by CNN.
A White House official confirmed the pick in a memo:
EBOLA RESPONSE COORDINATOR
The President has asked Ron Klain to take on the task of coordinating his administration’s whole of government Ebola response. He will report directly to the President’s Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco and the President National Security Advisor Susan Rice as he ensures that efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa. Klain’s role is consistent with the view the President articulated in the Oval Office last night that Monaco, Rice and others have done outstanding work in confronting this challenge so far – but given their management of other national and homeland security priorities, additional bandwidth will further enhance the government’s Ebola response.
Klain, an attorney, comes to the job with strong management credentials, extensive federal government experience overseeing complex operations and good working relationships with leading members of Congress, as well as senior Obama administration officials, including the President.
Ron Klain is President of Case Holdings and General Counsel at Revolution LLC, a technology-oriented venture capital firm based in Washington, DC. Prior to joining Revolution, Ron was a Partner and National Practice Group Chair at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
In addition to his career in law and business, Ron has extensive public service experience, most recently as a senior White House aide to President Obama and Chief of Staff to Vice President Biden. In that position, on behalf of Vice President Biden, he helped oversee implementation of the Recovery Act, a major interagency and intergovernmental project. Earlier, he served as Chief of Staff for Vice President Al Gore, and before that, as Chief of Staff for Attorney General Janet Reno. He has also served as the Staff Director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Committee, and the Chief Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ron is a summa cum laude graduate of Georgetown University and holds a JD, magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where he was an Editor of the Harvard Law Review and won the Sears Prize for the highest grade average in 1985. He served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Byron White.