President Barack Obama has picked Ron Klain, an inside-the-Beltway veteran and well-regarded manager, to oversee and fix the wobbly federal government response to West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak.
“The president has asked Ron Klain to take on the task of coordinating his administration’s whole of government Ebola response,” the White House said. His formal title will be “Ebola Response Coordinator.”
Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, “will report directly” to Obama Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
His job will be to ensure “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,” the White House said.
Klain, a veteran of political knife fights like the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida, is generally well regarded in Congress by Democrats and Republicans for his managerial skills. As Biden’s chief of staff, Klain oversaw the implementation of the 2009 economic stimulus package.
Klain, a lawyer by training, currently runs Case Holdings, which oversees the business and charity interests of former AOL Chairman Steve Case. He is also general counsel at Washington-based venture capital firm Revolution LLC.
The announcement came a day after Obama acknowledged that “it might make sense to have one person” overseeing the process “just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward.”
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Tom Frieden has increasingly drawn fire over his handling of the three Ebola cases diagnosed in the United States.
The first patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, died at a Dallas hospital. Two nurses who treated him are now sick with the disease. One of them, Amber Vinson, took a plane to Cleveland and back after being exposed. She is now being treated at Emory University. The other, Nina Pham, is being treated at the National Institutes of Health just outside Washington.
During a news conference to update the condition of Pham, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked how he felt about the possibility of having to report to another person on Ebola.
“I don’t know exactly what is meant by a czar, but we will certainly follow the lead of the president and follow the lead of (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Sylvia) Burwell,” Fauci said. “I take care of patients and I do my job. Other people do their job.”
Republicans have escalated attacks on Frieden and Obama in recent days while harnessing public fears about the deadly disease and the administration’s response with the midterm elections just a few weeks away.
Obama, speaking in the Oval Office after meeting with Frieden and other top aides leading the federal government response, insisted that he wasn’t unhappy with the work they have done.
“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,” the president insisted.
Yahoo News reporter Jason Sickles contributed to this report.