President Obama will name former White House official Ron Klain to serve as a so-called "Ebola czar" to oversee the government's handling of the virus, CBS News confirms.
Klain, who previously served as chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden and for Vice President Al Gore, will report directly to the president's homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and national security adviser Susan Rice, the White House said. He'll be responsible for ensuring that the American people are protected as Ebola patients are treated in this country, and for ensuring that those efforts "don't distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa," according to a White House official.
On Thursday, after canceling his second day of travel to focus on the epidemic, Mr. Obama addressed the issue from the Oval Office. He said his team of Ebola advisers is doing "an outstanding job." However, he added that several of them, including Monaco and Centers for Disease Control director Thomas Frieden are also dealing with other priorities. Frieden, for instance, is monitoring the flu season, while Monaco is handling the fight Islamic State extremists in the Middle East.
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"It may make sense for us to have one person" to oversee the Ebola response, "just so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process," Mr. Obama said.
Klain currently serves as president of Case Holdings and general counsel at Revolution LLC, a technology-oriented venture capital firm based in Washington, D.C. The White House touted Klain's management credentials, his extensive experience in the federal government and his relationships with members of Congress and the administration. While serving as Biden's chief of staff, Klain helped oversee the implementation of the Recovery Act.
A number of Washington lawmakers in recent days, following the confirmation of the second case of Ebola contracted within the U.S., have suggested the White House appoint an Ebola "czar."
"I would say that we don't know exactly who's in charge. There has to be some kind of czar," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, on CNN Sunday. McCain joined Reps. Jack Kingston of Georgia, Frank Wolf of Virginia and Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Rob Portman of Ohio, all Republicans who have said there needs to be a single point person within the administration responsible for ensuring the deadly virus does not spread in the U.S.
A couple Republicans in Congress on Friday expressed dissatisfaction with Klain's appointment. "God forbid [Obama] select a doctor," Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said on Twitter.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, said on Twitter, "Worst ebola epidemic in world history and Pres. Obama puts a government bureaucrat with no healthcare experience in charge. Is he serious?"
At least one lawmaker, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, responded positively to the news: "I've known Ron Klain for over twenty years. 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," Schumer said.
At a press conference Friday at the National Institutes of Health, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, was asked about Klain's new role. "I don't know exactly what is meant by a czar, but we will certainly follow the lead of the president and the lead of [Health and Human Services] Secretary Burwell," he said.