John McCain's new humiliation: Why his "Ebola Czar" idea is particularly ludicrous

McCain and others want Obama to appoint a flashy "Ebola Czar" to allay the public panic... that they're creating

Published October 13, 2014 4:45PM (EDT)

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ)              (Reuters/Samantha Sais)
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) (Reuters/Samantha Sais)

You will never believe this, but U.S. Senator John McCain appeared on a Sunday morning political talk show yesterday. Who knows how they were able to book such a notorious camera-shy recluse -- hypnotism/witchcraft, presumably. It was during this appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" that McCain lent his support to a burgeoning front of side-criticism over the President's "handling of Ebola," so to speak: That Obama needs to appoint a "czar" to coordinate the government's response. "I’d like to know who’s in charge," McCain said, noting that the people of Arizona are "not comforted" and "need more reassurance" that they will not all die from a virus that has infected two people in Texas.

McCain's call for a showy bureaucratic shuffling to allay the fears of the American public is bringing more attention to the "Ebola Czar" cause that his fellow Republicans have been championing for weeks. Rep. Jack Kingston said earlier this month that "while he hate[s] to invoke the term 'czar,'" we need a lil' czar action on the Ebola front. And last week, Sen. Jerry Moran and Rep. Frank Wolf sent a letter to the White House calling for an Ebola czar to serve as point person for the administration's response to the virus.

So. We're into administration "czars" now, are we?

It wasn't always this way. Back in the old days (2009), the White House suffered constant criticism for appointing "czars," a terrifyingly monarchical, Russian word that critics and the media applied to various policy point-people in the administration. The administration was appointing policy "czars," the criticism went, to sidestep the vetting and oversight of a Senate confirmation process. Nevermind that many of the so-called "czars" were, in fact, confirmed by the Senate -- assistant secretaries or whatever -- and that any administration has the fairly obvious right to employ policy advisors. Nevermind that. Obama was doing a run-around on Congress and the Constitution.

Among those complaining about czars in 2009? John McCain...

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...Jack Kingston...

Pence's call came after Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) introduced legislation in July that would effectively end the president's power to appoint special advisers.

Kingston, who has compiled a list of 34 Obama czars, said transparency is the issue. "These guys don't get vetted," he said in an interview. "They have staff and offices and immense responsibility. All that needs to come before Congress."

...Frank Wolf...

"The American people have a right to know who is advising the president and whether they have been thoroughly vetted," Wolf wrote.In addition to writing the president, Wolf is cosponsoring legislation that would prohibit the president from appointing high-ranking officials without going through the Senate’s confirmation process.   The Czar Accountability and Reform Act (H.R. 3226) also would eliminate funding for czars who hold senior policy-making positions who carry out the same functions as officials who have been confirmed by the Senate.

... and Jerry Moran.

Congressman Jerry Moran recently introduced H. Res. 778 - a resolution to formally express Congress' opposition to the "czar" appointment process while calling for the President to cease all "czar" appointments. Moran also sponsored H.R. 3226, the Czar Accountability and Reform Act of 2009, to prohibit paying the salary of a "czar" that has not been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

"The Obama Administration's excessive ‘czar' appointments exemplify the ever-expanding federal bureaucracy and big government that Kansans and Americans have grown tired of," Moran said. "The increasing use of unconfirmed government officials is irresponsible - it is time Congress stops the executive branch from abusing this flawed appointment process. I have introduced this resolution to condemn the increased use of unconfirmed government officials and heads of agencies."

The proximate cause for this 2009 "czar" debate was to bank follow-up points off the resignation of Van Jones, the White House's "green jobs czar" who was discovered to have signed a 9/11 truthers' petition years earlier. If there had been a more thorough Senate vetting process, the argument went, the public would have known much earlier that Van Jones had signed some document in 2004 unrelated to clean energy jobs. This radical Alinsky-ite leftist monstrosity, Van Jones, would go on to co-host a CNN jibber-jabber show with Newt Gingrich.

Hypocrisy, schmypocrisy, though. They want a "czar" now? They want an administration point-person coordinating the response? That's reasonable. So reasonable, in fact, that there already is such a person. Lisa Monaco is the administration's top Homeland Security advisor who's serving as the White House's point-person on Ebola. (Another logical choice would be the Surgeon General, a.k.a. the country's "top doctor." But there's only an acting Surgeon General right now. President Obama's nominee for the post, Vivek Murthy, has had his confirmation held up in the Senate for months because the NRA doesn't like his opinions about guns. No, really.)

What's the problem with Lisa Monaco? Not a big enough name for Frank Wolf, apparently. Wolf, according to the New York Daily News, thinks that "she doesn't have the gravitas to get global leaders on the phone and the leverage to get them to step up to the plate to commit resources." In their letter, Wolf and Moran throw out a few names with the appropriate "gravitas" to call people on the telephone: former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, and former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. They want a well-known international figure to serve as czar. Has President Obama considered Ronald McDonald?

Late election seasons sure are whackadoodle times. Anything that serves the immediate political self-interest goes. It is October and we have Republicans demanding that the White House to appoint a new bureaucrat. The bureaucratic role they want is already there, but the person filling it not fancy enough. They want Colin Powell, even though Republicans have hated Colin Powell for years. The stated idea is that Ebola Czar Colin Powell would ease the public's Ebola panic. Is that what would happen? The White House making a great big show of appointing Ebola Czar Coin Powell would elevate the "Ebola threat" to a level incommensurate with its reality. Things have gotten so bad that we need Colin Powell. As we near Election Day, the Republican party, statesmanlike as always, is trying to inflate Ebola panic to ludicrous levels. There's no need to meet this strategy eye-to-eye.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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