Obama names Ron Klain as Ebola 'czar'
WASHINGTON — President Obama tapped veteran government insider Ron Klain to coordinate his administration's efforts to contain the Ebola virus Friday.
Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, is well-known by Obama and White House aides. He was selected for his management experience and contacts throughout the government, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
"He is the right person for the job," Earnest said, particularly the challenge of "integrating the interagency 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 said, "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 mention Klain's appointment during a speech Friday to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but he 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 contracted the deadly virus. Both had treated a man who died of Ebola.
Klain 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.
The Ebola response includes efforts to screen travelers from West African nations where Ebola has reached epidemic proportions and killed more than 4,500 people. Klain will help coordinate the assistance the U.S. military provides 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 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."
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." He noted that national elections are less than three weeks away.
Klain may weigh in on another question facing the administration: the prospect of a U.S. travel ban from West African 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.
Thursday, Obama said experts in infectious diseases have told him "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 likely to take a low key role publicly.
Earnest said Obama wasn't looking for an Ebola expert but "an implementation expert."
He confirmed Klain's title: "Ebola response coordinator."
Klain will report to two officials 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," a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The president has long known Klain, who helped prepare him 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.
Contributing: Liz Szabo