Ron Klain started his job as President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” on Wednesday and will meet with teams and heads of various agencies responsible for responding to the Ebola virus. Klain, a man with no medical expertise, is billed by the White House as an “implementation expert” capable of coordinating a massive inter-agency response.
The 53-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer will play a largely behind-the-scenes role, making sure that problems are identified and resolved quickly and efficiently. Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Anthony Fauci will continue to be the face of the government response, according to CBS.
His first day on the job comes amid criticism from Republicans over his lack of medical expertise. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called him a “political operative” and said President Obama wasn’t showing leadership. Rep. Martha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would be better for the job because of his medical background and his coordination of Joint Task Force Katrina in 2005.
Republicans also wanted, and still do want, a travel ban to block anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia from coming into the country, but the White House and federal health officials deemed that unnecessary. Instead, authorities established a new rule that requires travelers from the three hardest-hit West African countries to funnel into the country through one of five designated airports that have implemented enhanced Ebola screening procedures. That rule goes into effect Wednesday.
Klain has been involved in Washington on behalf of Democrats since the early 1990s. Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein praised him as a policy expert perfectly equipped to deal with the bureaucratic nightmare of coordinating an Ebola response. He served as the top debate preparation advisor for Obama and President Bill Clinton and for hopefuls Al Gore and John Kerry. He was chief of staff for both Gore during his vice president stint and Vice President Joe Biden. He also coordinated the allocation of funds for Obama’s stimulus act of 2009. His last job was president of Case Holdings, the investments and philanthropic unit started by former AOL CEO Steve Case.