September 16th, 2009
07:08 PM ET
13 years ago

White House fights back against 'czar' claims

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Van Jones resigned from his 'green jobs czar' post amid criticism."]
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."

Filed under: Obama administration
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. don

    so what is the solution to americas problems here? the gop is all about criticizing and no solutions. where were you all during the bush administration.

    September 16, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  2. Jim

    just another example of GOP Hypocrisy ....

    GOP Sen Lamar Alexander on Sept 2, 2003..."the President of the United States yesterday in a Labor day speech in Ohio talked about, talked about jobs in specifically manufacturing jobs...he talked about appointing a sort of manufacturing jobs czar in the commerce department, which I would welcome"

    GOP Sen Lamar Alexander on Sept 16, 2009..."these czars are an affront to the constitution, they're anti-democratic, they are port, a poor example of a new era of transparency, which was promised to this country"

    September 16, 2009 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  3. Gary S.

    Sounds like the typical republican out both sides of their ass.can't beleave any one that stands for the party of destort and lie

    September 16, 2009 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  4. dave

    If Obama wants to stop the downward slide of his administration, he has to start to practice what he preaches. Where is the transparency he campaigned for.
    These positions, if they are going to be making policy decisions should be vetted by congress. A simple google search would have uncovered all the questionable background items of Mr Jones.
    It seems the Obama admin repeatedly get egg on their faces, and give the impression of gov't control, power hungry administration.
    They need to do their homework on these people they are appointing – simple background checks would save Obama a lot of headaches.

    September 16, 2009 11:41 pm at 11:41 pm |
  5. John G

    Obama got elected on a campaign of "change" and the defense of this is

    "Bush did it so we will too"

    Makes perfect sense to me...

    September 16, 2009 11:44 pm at 11:44 pm |
  6. will

    I rarely come on CNN anymore, and everytime I do I see how far you all have lurched left. Isn't it difficult competing in the government (Democratic) media against ABC, NBC, and CBS? If you just covered more to the center it would be a boon in rating for you guys.

    Anyway, your commentary on this is once again one sided and ridiculous. The ticker here is clearly run my left wing loons. And your pollsters too, as an example your "poll" on the President's health care speech. You are a propaganda arm for the government now.

    September 16, 2009 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  7. Idiot_Pelosi

    Mr. Transparency, NOT.

    September 16, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
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