Politics & Government

White House’s Ebola ‘czar’ to start Wednesday

The White House’s new point person for managing the threat posed by Ebola will begin working full time on Wednesday, administration officials said.

Ron Klain was not at a Cabinet meeting on Ebola with President Barack Obama Saturday night, but was briefed over the weekend on the various components of the administration’s efforts against Ebola, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes told MSNBC. That included a meeting with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said.

Klain‘s appointment as the administration’s ‘czar,’ drew criticism because of the former vice presidential aide’s political ties and lack of public health experience. But Rhodes said Klain has “extraordinary management experience in dealing with different government agencies on complex challenges.

“He will be able to support those medical and national security professionals who are focused on the Ebola threat,” Rhodes said.

Obama offered Klain the job last Friday, telling reporters after a meeting with senior aides on Ebola on Thursday that “it may make sense for us to have one person, in part just so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward.”

Klain will be paid for the gig and his start date “is not that long of a lapse,” Schultz said, noting that the process of bringing aboard federal employees can take weeks or months, but went faster because Klain had already served in the administration.

Klain will report directly to Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, Schultz said. The administration will send representatives to a Friday House hearing on Ebola, but Klain will not testify, Schultz said, noting “that will be day three of his tenure.”

The administration has been criticized for the response to the disease, but Rhodes said Obama -- who last week scrapped campaign events to stay at the White House and meet with staffers on Ebola -- has been meeting daily with his national security team and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leadership.

“I think the American people should have confidence that we are on top of this,” Rhodes said.

Obama, who stayed in Chicago on Monday after headlining a Sunday night rally for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, was to be briefed on the domestic Ebola response via teleconference by Monaco, Schultz said.

Obama has pressed world leaders to do more to control the disease in West Africa and Schultz said the president had held calls with eight world leaders in recent days, who have committed “at least $300 million in financial contributions to date, plus personnel, aircraft and resources on the ground.”

Some vulnerable Senate Democrats have joined Republicans in calling for travel bans for people coming from the affected West African countries, but Rhodes said it would be counter-productive.

“I think what the American people want is for their government to do what is going to work,” Rhodes said, adding that some public health professionals have argued that a travel ban would drive people underground.

“Instead of traveling through existing protocols that allows us to screen for Ebola, they seek to evade detection,” he said. “We believe that a travel ban could actually endanger people more by driving them underground and having people seeking to find ways into the United States that are outside the existing travel protocols.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Monday he plans to introduce legislation to create a temporary ban on new visas for nationals of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone when the Senate returns to Washington in November.

In his weekly address, Obama appealed for calm, saying that although Ebola is a serious disease, "we can't give in to hysteria or fear -- because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts."