States test White House's Ebola coordination efforts

The White House says there isn't much Ebola czar Ron Klain can do about governors setting state policies.

Story highlights

  • New Jersey, New York governors impose Ebola quarantines
  • White House says that doesn't reflect on new Ebola czar's work
  • Ron Klain is still getting started in his first week on the job, White House says
Two governors' break from President Barack Obama's administration on Ebola might suggest coordination is lacking, but don't blame newly tapped Ebola czar Ron Klain, the White House says.
The disparate approaches that federal officials and the states of New York and New Jersey have taken on Ebola have raised questions about the role being played by Klain, a long-time Democratic operative lauded for his management skills and knowledge of the federal bureaucracy.
But on Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest didn't offer many answers. He batted down questions about whether Klain had spoken to state officials and noted that Klain is still in his first week on the job.
"And in that time we have seen a significant number of announcements related to the whole-of-government approach that the President has ordered to dealing with the Ebola situation," Earnest said.
He ticked off a list that includes the Pentagon putting together a group of medical professionals on standby, commitments from foreign governments to play bigger roles in fighting the outbreak in West Africa, new protocols for health care workers dealing with Ebola patients, new training and outreach programs and additional airport screening measures.
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"Obviously, some of that Mr. Klain was very closely involved with," Earnest said. "Some of it he wasn't, because it reflected work that had been done before he arrived. But I do think that what you see here is intensive coordination among a range of federal agencies to respond to this very difficult challenge."
Klain's appointment was criticized by Republicans who had called for an Ebola czar, because while he has a long background in politics -- including serving as Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff -- Klain is not a medical professional.
Reporters pressed Earnest during his Monday briefing about whether states taking tougher approaches than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended means that the "whole-of-government" coordination Klain is charged with leading has faltered.
"What has changed since he started his job?" one asked. "Because it appears as though this week there's more confusion than there was last week, given what we're seeing in New York and New Jersey, and more differences between how the states are dealing with it."
The questions came after Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- both viewed as potential presidential candidates -- announced mandatory 21-day quarantines for health care workers who had been in contact with Ebola patients in West Africa and then returned to the United States.
Christie on Ebola policy: 'We're not moving an inch'
The Obama administration has opposed mandatory quarantines, arguing that such restrictions are unfair to people who don't show symptoms of the deadly virus. Christie shot back that it was worth inconveniencing one person to keep many others safe.
A White House official said Monday night that Christie spoke with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
However, Earnest said there's not much the White House can do about states imposing their own policies.
"I guess you can take that up with James Madison," he said.