WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House began pushing back Wednesday against conservatives who have slammed the adminstration of late for appointing high-ranking "czars" with broad, interagency oversight and nebulous job descriptions.
On Tuesday, several GOP senators sent a letter to the president questioning the constitutionality of such appointments. "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," they wrote, identifying 18 czars that may be undermining congressional responsibilities.
Critics have already claimed one victim: so-called "Green Jobs Czar" Van Jones, who was forced to resign this month after conservatives unearthed video of of him making unseemly comments about Republicans and signing onto a petition sponsored by a 9/11 conspiracy group.
Now the White House and its allies are accusing administration critics of taking marching orders from talk show host Glenn Beck, and pointing out that George W. Bush's administration appointed dozens of "czars" during his eight years in office.
"I think it's been somewhat remarkable that in previous administrations, so-called criticism of this has been a bit deafening, the silence has been deafening, only to have it come around as a political issue now," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.
Later in the afternoon, White House communications director Anita Dunn posted a "reality check" about czars on the administration's Web site, noting that the term is not an official White House title and that several of those Obama appointed "czars" were actually approved by the Senate.
The Democratic National Committee was more blunt: "In leveling these ludicrous attacks, Republicans have crowned themselves the czars of hypocrisy," DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan said. Party officials blasted out six different e-mails to reporters on Wednesday flagging the Bush administration's reliance on "czars," citing news reports that going back to 2001.
Among the 47 Bush czars named by the DNC: "Manufacturing Czar" Albert Frink, "Birth Control Czar" Eric Keroack, "Bioethics Czar" Leon Kass, "Food Safety Czar" David Atchison, and "AIDS Czar" Mark Dybul. Several of the czars they listed - including former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman - have been informally described in media reports as "czars," but they were just as often described by their formal titles.
"Most telling of the credibility of these attacks is that they come from the same Republican party that didn't utter a peep about the 47 documented czars in the Bush administration even when the so called 'abstinence czar' was caught soliciting," Sevugan said, referring to Randall Tobias, a top State Department official who resigned in 2007 after he was caught soliciting prostitutes.
Gibbs reiterated that czars are hardly new, telling reporters at the White House briefings that "these are positions that date back at least to many, many administrations where there is policy coordination between many different departments in order to make governmental responses more efficient."