POLITICS

Obama Czars: Group Of Republican Senators Sends Disingenuous Missive Over Appointees

11/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A group of Republican senators, led by Utah Senator Bob Bennett, have sent a letter to the White House, concern-trolling over the existence of "czars." This is all a part of the latest silly-season campaign in which people pretend to have no idea of the longstanding tradition of presidents enlisting the service of experts to manage a specific portfolio and/or proffer advice on a particular subject of concern (to which the media appends the shorthand "czar"). This was never a matter of real concern until opposition to the White House required opponents to fully embrace the paranoid style of American politics. But that's the way we live now -- fully deranged.

At any rate, Bennett and his coterie of sensible senators are really worried that the existence of "czars" undermines the Constitution:

We write to express our growing concern with the proliferation of "czars" in your Administration. These positions raise serious issues of accountability, transparency, and oversight. The creation of "czars," particularly within the Executive Office of the President, circumvents the constitutionally established process of "advise and consent." greatly diminishes the ability of Congress to conduct oversight and hold officials accountable, and creates confusion about which officials are responsible for policy decisions.


To be clear, we do not consider every position identified in various reports as a "czar" to be problematic. Positions established by law or subject to Senate confirmation, such as the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, do not raise the same kinds of concerns as positions that you have established within the Executive Office of the President that are largely insulated from effective Congressional oversight. We also recognize that Presidents are entitled to surround themselves with experts who can serve as senior advisors.

Many "czars" you have appointed, however, either duplicate or dilute the statutory authority and responsibilities that Congress has conferred upon Cabinet-level officers and other senior Executive branch officials. When established within the White House, these "czars" can hinder the ability of Congress to oversee the complex substantive issues that you have unilaterally entrusted to their leadership. Whether in the White House or elsewhere, the authorities of these advisors are essentially undefined. They are not subject to the Senate's constitutional "advice and consent" role, including the Senate's careful review of the character and qualifications of the individuals nominated by the President to fill the most senior positions within our government. Indeed, many of these new "czars" appear to occupy positions of greater responsibility and authority than many of the officials who have been confirmed by the Senate to fill positions within your Administration.

Bennett goes on to suggest that they had "identified at least '18' czar positions" that he feels are doing the lion's share of the Constitutional undermining. The letter does not include any such list so it's hard to know exactly to whom Bennett et al are referring. However, having purported to have eliminated "positions established by law" and positions subject to Senate confirmation, we can eliminate the following people from the original Politico list of "czars."

CONFIRMED:
Alan Bersin
Gil Kerlikowske
Cass Sunstein
Herb Allison
Aneesh Chopra
Ashton Carter
John Holdren

POSITIONS CREATED BY CONGRESS:
Vivek Kundra
Earl Devaney

In addition, many of the positions that Politico listed as "czars" cannot possibly be undermining Constitutional authority because the Constitution has ably survived the appointments that President George W. Bush made to the same positions. These include:

Joshua DuBois, who, like John Diluio, Jim Towey, and Jay Hein, will serve as the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

George Mitchell, who, like General Anthony C. Zinni, will serve as the special envoy to the Middle East.

J. Scott Gration, who, like Senator John Danforth, Andrew Natsios, and Richard S. Williamson, will serve as the special envoy to Sudan.

John Brennan, who, like Senator Tom Ridge, Frances Townsend, and Ken Wainstein, will serve as the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism (a position the Bush created).

Richard Holbrooke, who, like Zalmay Khalilizad, will serve as the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Jeffrey Crowley, who, like Joseph O'Neill, will be the director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

Ron Bloom, appointed as President Obama's senior counselor for manufacturing policy, follows in the precedent established by the Bush White House, who appointed Albert Frink as the "manufacturing czar" in 2004.

Additionally, consider the following:

Paul Volcker: Politico seems to think Volcker is the "Economic Czar." He's actually the president of the Economic Recovery Board. He is a former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Daniel Fried: Thought of as the "Guantanamo Closure Czar," he was uncontroversially known as the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Bush administration. As far as Guantanamo closure goes, the issue is deeply controversial, but since the Congress has demonstrated the wherewithal to delay and obstruct legislation over the matter, it's hard to see where all the Constitutional undermining is happening.

Carol Browner: Browner is the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, and was formerly vetted and confirmed by the U.S. Senate when she was appointed to the EPA.

Gary Samore: Samore is appointed to serve as the chief adviser to the president on WMD proliferation and terrorism. This position was established in the 9/11 Commission Recommendations bill, which became law in 2007. Bush simply never filled the position.

Todd Stern: He is called the "international climate czar," but this term is just made up out of whole cloth. Stern is a State Department envoy who "represent[s] the United States internationally at the Ministerial level in all bilateral and multilateral negotiations regarding climate change."

Once you eliminate all the appointments that don't fit the Bennett group's own criteria and which beg for a thorough reassessment of the senators' credibility, here's who you are left with on the original Politico list:

Ed Montgomery: Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. Montgomery was a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor in the Clinton administration.

Dennis Ross: Member of the National Security Council, where he serves as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the "Central Region," which refers to the Middle East and South Asia.

Lynn Rosenthal: White House Adviser on Violence Against Women, an issue on which Vice President Joe Biden aims to place a greater focus in the Obama administration. It's really difficult to see how Rosenthal could put the nation into a Constitutional crisis.

Adolfo Carrion, Jr.: Serves as the Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs Policy, a portfolio that the Obama administration created and which sounds suspiciously like something that might not exclusively benefit white people!

Kenneth Feinberg: Feinberg was appointed to oversee the compensation of executives at firms that receive federal bailout money. As you might surmise, he's having a tremendous impact reining in Wall Street salaries.

Nancy-Ann DeParle: Director of the newly-created White House Office of Health Reform. As you may have surmised by reading even a single newspaper from this past summer, she hasn't exactly succeeded at strong-arming the Congress into doing the White House's bidding.

Cameron Davis: Uhm... the White House has an initiative to clean up the Great Lakes, and Cameron Davis is tasked with overseeing this initiative. I bet most of you figured that when the fall of the U.S. Constitution came, it would come via this position.

See, once you start actually examining these positions in a reality-based way, it's hard to know where Bennett and his colleagues derive their eighteen-member list and even harder to determine how, precisely, any of these people imperil the Constitution. But all of that's beside the point. "Czars" have been with us since the Nixon White House and the previous administration had a crap-ton of them about whom none of these Senators, to my recollection, ever complained. It's hard to look at the efforts of Senator Bennett and his colleagues as anything other than the ministrations of people who simply have no idea what they are even talking about. Hopefully, their concerns will be answered in a letter from the White House Sarcasm Czar.

RELATED:
When Is a Czar Not a Czar? [Washington Independent]

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