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White House Ebola Czar's Job: Contain Political Fallout

  • Luis Ramirez

President Barack Obama’s new Ebola czar begins his job Wednesday and part of his responsibility will be to help fix the political storm that prominent Ebola cases on U.S. soil have brought.

Ron Klain is a lawyer with a reputation as a formidable campaigner and administrator but no public health background. That raised immediate questions last week, when White House spokesman Josh Earnest first discussed his nomination.

“What we were looking for is not an Ebola expert, but rather an implementation expert. And that's exactly what Ron Klain is. He is somebody who has extensive experience in the federal government," said Earnest.

At the start, the president was adamant in saying the United States was at little or no risk of a serious outbreak, raising the expectation among many Americans that the government would prevent the disease from arriving on U.S. shores.

That is where the administration believes Klain can help, says Tevi Troy. Troy ran the White House Domestic Policy Council in the George W. Bush administration and now heads the American Health Policy Institute in Washington.

“It seemed that there were problems with competence but also that the administration’s statements, the overly optimistic statements, were out of whack with what’s really happening, so that’s why there needs to be an adjustment," said Troy.

With congressional elections just weeks away, the three highest profile Ebola cases in the United States could not have appeared at a worse time for President Obama and the Democrats.

The cases drew extensive media attention and raised anxiety among some Americans who questioned his administration’s competence.

Along with the public health aspect, analysts say the Obama administration sees the Ebola issue as a messaging problem that may cost Obama’s party public support.

Tevi Troy says that partly explains why the president chose a political operative to help fix an image problem.

“The American people aren’t that well versed in the details of what’s going on, but they do see the public communications. And this is an extent to which it is a messaging problem," he said.

Ron Klain will oversee and coordinate the massive effort that ranges from deploying 4,000 American troops to West Africa to revising and implementing guidelines for workers at U.S. hospitals.

After appointing Klain, the administration moved to further stem criticism from Republicans who accuse President Obama of not doing enough to protect the American people from Ebola and have criticized his refusal to impose a travel ban.

Officials on Tuesday announced new restrictions on travelers coming from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Passengers from those countries will now have to enter the United States only at certain U.S. airports where they will undergo enhanced screening.