Democrats join GOP czar wars — White House, taking on Glenn Beck, tackles GOP attack on “czars” — DNC “Dancing With The Czars” Video — Reality Check: The Truth About “Czars” — Role of White House Czars Sparks Battle — Fox News’ Major Garrett Presses WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Czars Video —Taking count of Obama’s ‘czars,’ lawmakers rise up —


Democrats join GOP czar wars

Politico:  By MANU RAJU | 9/17/09

In the war on the czars, Glenn Beck and the GOP are picking up reinforcements from an unlikely source: the Democratic Party.

The Fox News host and leading Republican lawmakers have been hammering President Barack Obama for weeks over a proliferation of policy “czars” — presidential appointees who don’t have to be confirmed by the Senate and aren’t easily held to account by Senate oversight committees.

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin joined the anti-czar chorus Wednesday, asking Obama to detail the roles and responsibilities of all of the czars in his administration and to explain why he believes the use of czars is consistent with the Senate’s constitutional power to offer advice and consent on top-level executive branch officials.

“To the extent that this undercuts that role and people are put in the place of Cabinet people and really are the key authorities and you can’t question them, that’s something worth talking about,” Feingold said. “I think it’s a fair point.”

Feingold says he doesn’t know if there are any constitutional violations, but he suggested that he may hold an oversight hearing on the matter.

Although the czar charge has come mostly from the right, Feingold isn’t the only Democrat to voice concerns about the issue.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in an interview Wednesday that there needs to be better Senate oversight, although she was quick to add that some czar critics have incorrectly labeled a number of Senate-confirmed administration officials as White House czars.

“If you look over certain people [who] have real titles and real authority, I don’t think it’s quite fair to call, for example, David Hayes at the Department of Interior a czar,” the California Democrat said. “He’s the deputy secretary of the Department of Interior, and he’s got real authority.”

Feinstein said she thinks it’s a “problem” when the White House appoints someone to a czar position that is not clearly defined. “I don’t know what a car czar does, for example,” she said.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) — a fierce defender of congressional authority — argued in a letter last February that the czars may upset checks and balances in the federal government.

Van Jones, Obama’s green jobs czar, resigned earlier this month amid conservative outcry over his association with the Sept. 11 “truther” movement and derogatory comments he made about Republicans. Beck, who helped lead the push against Jones, called him a “self-avowed radical revolutionary communist.”

Republicans on the Hill have picked up on the czar issue, using the presidential appointees as a powerful symbol for the problems of unchecked government.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said the czar fight is a “great issue because it raises the whole issue of this agenda of expansion of government in Washington — and lack of accountability and transparency.

“It seems like everything we’re doing right now is just consolidating power here, as opposed to distributing, which most of our folks would be more favorably disposed to, at least philosophically.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who spearheads messaging for the Senate Republican Conference, has stepped up his criticism of Obama’s use of czars, but he downplayed the role the conservative media have played in his attacks.

“I just think it upsets the checks and balances,” Alexander said. “And it’s a symbol of too many Washington takeovers.”

Democrats note that Obama isn’t the first president to use czars; the Democratic National Committee said Wednesday that George W. Bush had 47 czars — and that congressional Republicans didn’t complain about the use of czars then. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that Alexander and other Republicans were being hypocritical, since they pushed for czars in the previous administration.

“It’s something that some talk show hosts have made a great deal out of; they apparently didn’t make a great deal out of it when President [Richard] Nixon did it, [and] there were other czars over the course of the last eight years,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat from Nebraska. “It wouldn’t necessarily be the way I’d do it, but the president is entitled to have his advisers.”

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) also noted Wednesday that other presidents have made use of czars, but he said that there may be a limit to what they should be allowed to do. “My expectation would be that if you have people with line responsibility, you need to have confirmation,” he said.


White House, taking on Glenn Beck, tackles GOP attack on “czars”

Chicago Sun Times By Lynn Sweet, September 17, 2009

WASHINGTON–In a posting done without fanfare at, White House communications chief Anita Dunn responded Wednesday afternoon with a rebuttal to the attack on the Obama administration by some Republicans and commentators–Glenn Beck one of them–on the appointments of “czars”–high level advisors who did not face Senate confirmation. Beck just got the head of now former green jobs chief Van Jones.

In a bit of coordinated messaging, the Demoratic National Committee on Thursday morning produced a web video, “Dancing with the Czars.”


Reality Check: The Truth About “Czars”

White House Blog

Last week, when the President addressed the Joint Session of Congress in a speech on health reform, he referred to some of the untruths – okay, lies – that have been spread about the plan and sent a clear message to those who seek to undermine his agenda and his presidency with these tactics: “We will call you out.” So consider this one of those calls.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen with increasing frequency and volume issues raised around the use of “czars” by this Administration. Although some Members have asked serious questions around the makeup of the White House staff, the bulk of the noise you hear began first with partisan commentators, suggesting that this is somehow a new and sinister development that threatens our democracy. This is, of course, ridiculous. Just to be clear, the job title “czar” doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration. Many of the officials cited by conservative commentators have been confirmed by the Senate. Many hold policy jobs that have existed in previous Administrations. And some hold jobs that involved coordinating the work of agencies on President Obama’s key policy priorities: health insurance reform, energy and green jobs, and building a new foundation for long-lasting economic growth

But of course, it’s really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s use of “czars”, had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration’s use of “czars”. Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint “czars” to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges. What is clear is that all of this energy going into these attacks could be used to have a constructive conversation about bringing this country together to address our challenges moving forward – and it doesn’t take a “czar” to bring that about! Just some folks willing to act in good faith.

Take a look at the facts below – the truth about “czars”:

Rhetoric:  Critics have claimed the Obama Administration is filled with new and unchecked czars.

Glenn Beck Claimed There Were 32 “Czars” In The Obama Administration. “The Brainroom counts 32 czars in the Obama administration, based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar.” [Glenn Beck Website, 8/21/09]

In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sen. Hutchison Claimed There Were An “Unprecedented 32 Czar Posts.” “A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as “czars.’ They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy. Under the Obama administration, we have an unprecedented 32 czar posts (a few of which it has yet to fill), including a ‘car czar,’ a ‘pay czar’ and an ‘information czar.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/09]

Reality: Many of the arbitrarily labeled “czars” on Beck’s list are Senate-confirmed appointees or advisory roles carried over from previous administrations. Others are advisors to the President’s Cabinet Secretaries.  Beck himself says on his own website, “Since czar isn’t an official job title, the number is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.”

Republicans have supported these positions in the past. When asked on Fox News if he had opposed any of President Bush’s “czars,” Rep. Darrell Issa admitted “No we didn’t.” In fact, the Bush administration had many of the same officials and advisors now described as “czars,”  including Afghanistan czar, AIDS czarDrug czarFaith-based czar, Intelligence czar, Mideast Peace Czar, Regulatory Czar, Science Czar, Sudan Czar, TARP/Bailout Czar, Terrorism Czar, and Weapons Czar.

Of the 32 “czars” on Beck’s list, nine were confirmed by the Senate:

Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes (“California Water Czar”)
Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske (“Drug Czar”)
OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients (“Government Performance Czar”)
Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair (“Intelligence Czar”)
OMB Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Cass Sunstein (“Regulatory Czar”)
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and OSTP Director John Holdren (“Science Czar”)
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Herb Allison (“TARP Czar”)
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Ashton Carter (“Weapons Czar”)
OSTP Associate Director Aneesh Chopra (“Technology Czar”)

Many of the same critics who are decrying these roles have applauded or even pushed for them in the past. Sen. Robert Bennett has criticized czars as “undermining the Constitution,”  but reportedly prodded President Clinton to appoint a Y2K Czar.  In a 1999 CNN appearance, Sen. Bennett said “I think John Koskinen has been superb. I wrote the president six months before John was appointed, recommending that he appoint a Y2K czar.” At  a 1999 National Press Club luncheon, Bennett told reporters the Koskinen was “there to help, prod, give information, and make analyses and reports”  and said he spoke with the czar to ensure “we maintain the kind of bipartisan and across-the-government sort of communication that this never becomes a political issue.”

Senator Lamar Alexander has also criticized President Obama’s “czars,” calling them “an affront to the Constitution.”  But during remarks delivered on the Senate floor in 2003, Sen. Alexander said “I would welcome” President Bush’s “manufacturing job czar.”  That same day in the Senate, he also expressed support for President Bush’s AIDS czar Randall Tobias.

When asked on Fox News if he had opposed any of President Bush’s “czars,” Rep. Darrell Issa responded “No we didn’t,” despite previously claiming that czars “undermine” transparency and accountability.

In fact, last year, 176 House Republicans, including Issa, voted for a bill that would create an “Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator” that would advise the President and serve in the White House. By the time the bill passed the Senate, it was co-sponsored by 20 additional senators, including Sen. Alexander.

Anita Dunn is Director of Communications for the White House


Role of White House Czars Sparks Battle

WSJ – By NEIL KING JR., September 11, 2009

The uproar over former White House adviser Van Jones has heightened attention on the ranks of nonconfirmed policy “czars” within the Obama administration.

The use of special White House advisers and the czar moniker itself go back decades, but government watchers say President Barack Obama has appointed an unusual number of senior coordinators, especially for a president so early in his administration. They have responsibilities ranging from health care and climate change to Afghanistan and the auto sector.

Some Republicans, fanned by conservative commentators’ warnings that these advisers constitute a shadow government, have seized on the czar issue to criticize Mr. Obama for trying to push policy initiatives outside normal bureaucratic channels. Republicans, including Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander and California Rep. Darrell Issa, say that the use of these special advisers has run amok, and that their powers should be curbed. The issue flared in recent weeks at dozens of congressional town-hall meetings.

One concern about czars centers on the fact that many of these appointments aren’t subject to confirmation by Congress. To have them running the government, rather than simply assisting the president, “is an affront to the Constitution,” Mr. Alexander said. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd warned earlier this year that the growth of czars could sap congressional authority.

The White House dismisses the criticism as overblown. “The reality is that every president dating back to Nixon had similar positions in their administrations,” said Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman.

Just what constitutes a czar is murky, and it isn’t clear exactly how many Mr. Obama has compared with previous administrations.Critics have brandished lists singling out 30 or so Obama administration appointees, but nearly a third of those hold posts that existed during the Bush administration. Others hold positions subject to confirmation by the Senate. Still others dubbed czars are longtime government officials asked to take on specific projects.

But it is true that the Obama administration has broadened the ranks of special advisers, in some cases giving large portfolios to officials who might have faced difficulties in a Senate confirmation process. Some Obama supporters acknowledge that a Senate vetting process would likely have uncovered earlier Mr. Jones’s controversial past. Mr. Jones, who advised the White House on “green jobs,” resigned Saturday amid a brewing backlash over inflammatory statements he made in previous speeches. Mr. Jones described the attacks against him as a “vicious smear campaign.”

The number of Obama czars stems in part from the administration’s effort to deal with the worst recession in decades — six appointees that conservative critics list as czars hold posts directly tied to the economic downturn, including Earl Devaney, responsible for overseeing stimulus spending, and Ron Bloom, in charge of the auto bailout.

Mr. Obama’s choice of Carol Browner, a former Environmental Protection Agency chief, as his main White House energy adviser has in particular aroused suspicions from Republicans, who question whether her access to the president will mean she ends up usurping power from other agencies. Ms. Browner helped broker a fuel-standards deal between the administration and auto makers earlier this year, and has been a conspicuous presence in climate negotiations with Congress. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, meanwhile, has been largely tied up administering billions of dollars in stimulus projects. Ms. Browner, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Other appointees are coming under fire from conservative commentators for positions they have taken in the past. Mark Lloyd, who held the midlevel position of chief diversity officer at the Federal Communications Commission, has been critical of corporate-owned media. Cass Sunstein, a former Harvard Law professor picked to oversee government regulations within the Office of Management and Budget, won Senate confirmation Thursday after a months-long tussle. Mr. Sunstein has made the case for granting legal rights to domestic animals and clamping down on hunting.Messrs. Lloyd and Sunstein, through their offices, declined to comment.

Political scholars say it’s too early to tell whether the expansion in the ranks of government advisers is a temporary anomaly as the administration wrestles with a large array of challenges — or represents a disturbing growth in executive-branch power.

“We still need time to see which way this breaks,” said Gary Bass, director of the nonpartisan OMB Watch. “If these advisers turn out to be highly controlling and unaccountable, that would be very troubling. But in a government that is so large, they could also play a key coordinating role, and that would be good.”



Taking count of Obama’s ‘czars,’ lawmakers rise up

Congressional oversight of the appointment process for the high-level policy jobs is lacking, some complain, though such positions have long been common at the White House.

LA Times: By Joe Markman. September 17, 2009

President Obama’s appointment of “czars,” or policy coordinators, is drawing new fire from lawmakers in both parties.

The most prominent complaint is that Obama, by using his own authority to name people to these policy jobs, is circumventing the role of the Senate in considering and confirming important nominations to the president’s administration.

In a letter to the president this week, Sen. Susan Collins (R- Maine) and five other Republican lawmakers criticized the administration for encroaching on Congress’ authority in establishing what it said were too many far-reaching czars.

Collins identified 18 positions created by Obama that “may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress.”

The letter asks Obama to respond with information about each position, including the administration’s vetting process and whether the officials will be available to appear before Congress.

Among the czars are Nancy-Ann DeParle, who coordinates healthcare issues within the White House; Carol Browner, who coordinates energy and environmental issues within the White House; Adolfo Carrion Jr., who works on urban affairs; and Lynn Rosenthal, who works on domestic violence and sexual assault issues.

Democrats also have questioned the use of czars. On Tuesday, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) raised similar concerns in a letter to Obama. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), in his own letter this year, noted that czars in past administrations had “rarely” testified before congressional committees “and often shield the information and decision-making process behind the assertion of executive privilege.”

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Republicans have mislabeled key agency personnel as czars.

“The term ‘czar’ is largely a media creation to make jobs that have existed under multiple administrations sound more exciting,” Vietor said. “Every president since Nixon has hired smart and qualified people to coordinate between agencies and the White House.”

Despite the recent fervor among lawmakers and the conservative media over Obama’s lengthy czar list, these positions are not a creation of the 44th president.

The term goes back at least as far as 1957, when the press called James Killian the “Missile Czar” in the aftermath of the Russians’ launch of Sputnik.

During the 1970s oil crisis, Frank Zarb was known as the energy czar under President Ford.

President George H.W. Bush appointed William J. Bennett as the nation’s first drug czar in 1989.

The second Bush administration also had numerous intelligence and homeland security czars.

The Obama administration itself rarely refers to officials as czars, and some of them have been confirmed by the Senate or placed in positions created by Congress.

Richard Holbrooke, whom Collins labeled the Afghanistan czar, has testified before Congress several times.


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Related Links:

Van Jones: Official Communist-oriented Manifesto (STORM) (PDF)

Real Clear Politics: Sen. Lamar Alexander Calls Czars “Antidemocratic”

PUMA: List of Obama’s Czars

American Daughter: The Compleat List of Czars