WASHINGTON – He has tackled the financial crisis, served two vice-presidents and been portrayed by Kevin Spacey in an HBO film, but Ron Klain’s newest job as the U.S. point person on Ebola may be his toughest challenge to date.
A longtime Democratic operative, Klain was tasked Friday by President Barack Obama with running the government’s response to the Ebola crisis. Klain has been a trusted adviser at the Obama White House, and served as Vice-President Joe Biden’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2011 and as Vice-President Al Gore’s from 1995 to 1999.
Klain has been out of government since leaving Biden’s office during the Obama’s first term. The White House said that Klain would report to national security adviser Susan Rice and to homeland security and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco.
Klain, a lawyer, also served as chief of staff for Vice-President Al Gore and was a key figure during the 2000 Florida presidential election recount. He previously served under Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton administration.
One thing absent from Klain’s resume: A medical background. Klain does not have any major public health experience, but the White House is calling the new post an “Ebola response co-ordinator,” suggesting the role is intended more to synchronize the actions of various agencies rather than to weigh in on the specifics of how best to stop Ebola.
“This is much broader than a medical response,” Earnest said. He cited Klain’s management in the private and public sector and his relations with Congress and within the White House.
“All of that means he is the right person for the job, and the right person to make sure we are integrating the interagency response to this significant challenge,” he said.
Obama has been under pressure to name an Ebola “czar” to oversee health security in the U.S. and actions to help stem the outbreak in West Africa, where nearly 4,500 people have died from the virus.
White House officials had initially resisted congressional calls to name a lead figure on Ebola, arguing that various agencies had distinct responsibilities, including the Centers for Disease Control, the Defence Department, and the Health and Human Services Department.
But on Thursday, Obama conceded that such a point person might in fact be necessary even as he praised his adviser for doing “an outstanding job.”
But he said that several of his advisers, including Monaco and CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden, are also confronting other priorities. He noted that Frieden is also dealing with flu season, and Monaco and Rice are having to spend time on the Islamic State extremists in the Middle East.
“It may make sense for us to have one person … so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process just to make sure we are crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is,” he said.
Klain comes to the job with strong management credentials, extensive federal government experience overseeing complex operations and good working relationships with leading members of Congress, as well as senior Obama administration officials, including the president.
In a statement, the White House noted that as Biden’s chief of staff, Klain helped with the implementation of the White House stimulus package of 2009 created as a response to the recession and the financial crisis.
Klain is President of Case Holdings and General Counsel at Revolution LLC, a technology venture capital firm based in Washington, DC.
Associated Press writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.
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