When is a czar not a czar?
With an assist from Politico, which has completely bought into Glenn Beck’s campaign against “czars” — on Monday, the publication sketched out a “GOP czar revolt” that consisted of work by Michelle Malkin, a joke by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and a comment from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — conservatives are arguing that the Obama White House is abusing its power by appointing so many advisers without Senate approval. In the words of Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.):
In the wake of these recent revelations, the president should suspend any further appointments of so-called czars until Congress has an opportunity to examine the background and responsibilities of these individuals and to determine the constitutionality of such appointments.
Here’s the problem: Some of the people whom conservatives and mainstream media voices alike have labeled “czars” have been confirmed by the Senate. Some of them, and others, hold jobs that were created by previous presidents.
Take a look at Politico’s list of 31 “czars,” which shrinks to 30 without Van Jones. Republican strategists like Ed Rollins have used that “31″ number to allege that there’s a problem here. But perhaps the most controversial people labeled “czars” by Beck and by reporters have gone through Senate confirmations. Cass Sunstein, whom Politico labels the “regulatory czar,” is waiting for the end of a Republican filibuster so he can lead the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an office created in 1980. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was confirmed by the Senate, unanimously, six months ago. But none of that seems to matter to their critics. Michelle Malkin, whom, again, Politico credited for making this an issue, relentlessly refers to Holdren as the “Science Czar” as if it was his actual title.
Let’s just go down the Politico list.
“AIDS Czar” – Actually the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, created in 2001 by George W. Bush.
“Border Czar” – Actually the Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs, created in 2003 by George W. Bush.
“California Water Czar” – Actually the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, who was given this extra portfolio by Secretary Ken Salazar in June.
“Central Region Czar” – The Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the “Central Region,” on the Nation Security Council.
“Drug Czar” – Actually the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, created in 1989 by George H.W. Bush.
“Faith-Based Czar” – Head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, created in 2001 by George W. Bush.
“Intelligence Czar” – This is actually the Director of National Intelligence, a position created in 2005.
“TARP Czar” – Actually the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability of the United States Herb Allison, who was confirmed by the Senate in June.
“Weapons Czar” – Not actually an executive branch position, but the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
New jobs held by eminent people or people previously confirmed by the Senate:
“Afghanistan Czar” – Actually the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the man holding that job, Richard Holbrooke went through a Senate confirmation hearing in 1999 when he became Bill Clinton’s U.N. ambassador.
“Economic Czar” – Actually the President’s Economic Recovery Board, chaired by Paul Volcker, the deeply uncontroversial former chairman of the Federal Reserve.
“Energy and Environment Czar” – This is Carol Browner, the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1993 to run the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton.
“Guantanamo Closure Czar” – Actually the Special Envoy to Guantanamo, Daniel Fried, who was the final Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in the Bush administration.
There are other problems with the list. The so-called “International Climate Czar,” Todd Stern, is actually a special envoy who works in the State Department; several other “czars” were appointed to previously-existing institutions, like John Brennan, given a new portfolio in the 56-year-old National Security Council. But let’s read the list this way, and stop calling “czars” the people who were confirmed by the Senate at one point or given previously-existing jobs. That scary Politico list of 30 names is down to 15 names. It’s down to people like Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Adviser on Violence Against Women.
Now, President Obama has created several new offices and institutions: the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, the President’s Economic Recovery Board, White House Office of Health Reform, and the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, to name some. But when Pence says Congress must “examine the background and responsibilities of these individuals” and “determine the constitutionality,” what is he suggesting? Should Herb Allison and John Holdren, who were confirmed by the Senate, resign and go through hearings again, just to be safe? Does he wonder whether the job of Director of National Intelligence is constitutional? That would be a shame, because Pence voted for the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which created the DNI.
A debate about the power of the executive branch and the collapsing trust between the president and the Senate — it’s the constant filibusters of presidential nominees that really started this process of end-runs around confirmation hearings — would be healthy. But so far this “czars” debate seems like a witch hunt egged on by sloppy reporting.