A growing number of Republicans are accusing President Obama of leadership failures on Ebola and urging him to hand over the government response to a single point person outside his administration.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) became the latest — and highest-ranking — Republican to call for an Ebola “czar” on Sunday. Hours after the U.S. confirmed that Ebola had spread within its borders for the first time, McCain told CNN that Americans “need more reassurance” about what’s being done to stop the deadly disease.

{mosads}“We don’t know exactly who’s in charge,” McCain said.

At least six lawmakers, including one Democrat, are now calling for a single Ebola authority to oversee the government’s efforts at home and abroad. The U.S. plan to combat Ebola costs at least $1 billion and crosses multiple layers of government, from the Department of Defense to airport security staff to local health departments.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has worked closely with federal officials on the city’s Ebola cases, told reporters last week that the response had been “at best, disorganized.”

The White House maintains that it has a clear chain of command about how to confront Ebola, and it starts with Obama’s top homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco. But Republicans believe the lack of a prominent point person who can focus solely on Ebola has slowed the nation’s response to the epidemic.

“This is the time to bring the very best person who can coordinate,” Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) told The Hill on Monday. “It’s like moving an army.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, again dismissed the idea on Monday, arguing that approach has failed in previous disaster relief efforts.

“You keep hearing, let’s have a ‘czar,’ ‘the Ebola czar,’ but it’s a complicated, multifaceted process of what’s being done,” Fauci told Fox News on Monday. “I think the coordination is good, and each individual agency knows what they need to do, and we do it in a very collaborative way.”

The calls for an Ebola point person first started in late summer from Republicans including Reps. Wolf and Jack Kingston of Georgia and Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Rep. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who heads the Foreign Relations Africa Subcommittee, has also said it is “critical” for the U.S. to have a single point person on Ebola.

A centralized authority could have drastically improved the national response to Ebola, Wolf said.

He said he became alarmed when he received a call this July from the head of Samaritan’s Purse, a West African-based humanitarian group, who had trouble reaching someone in the administration. After multiple calls to different agencies, Wolf said he still didn’t have a clear picture of the country’s response.

More than a month after the White House said that Monaco would take charge of the effort, Wolf said the Obama administration still needs someone who can “bring everyone in the world together,” floating names such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell or former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“I would say nothing critical about Lisa Monaco, but if she were to call the prime minister of Norway, would he have to Google her to find out who she was?” Wolf said in an interview.

A wide-ranging group, including nonprofit humanitarian organizations and lawmakers of both parties, have criticized Obama for what they called a lagging approach to the global epidemic.

That criticism has escalated over the last month after the U.S. diagnosed its first Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan. Duncan, who died Wednesday, also infected one of his nurses, Nina Pham, who tested positive on Saturday.

Republicans have said the position should be temporary and be held by a well-known statesman. But Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said the country needs a “public health czar” who is prepared to be the authority on any health-related disaster.

“It’s absolutely correct to say we don’t have an overriding authority who can deal with this,” Redlener said.

He added that the Ebola response must take place at every level of government, from the workers disposing of contaminated waste to the local health departments leading the contact-tracing.

“It’s way more complex than people imagine” said Redlener, who is also an emergency health adviser to New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.

The White House has dismissed calls for a different kind of Ebola czar, holding a meeting on Monday that included Monaco, Frieden, HHS Secretary Mathews Burwell and national security adviser Susan Rice.

Obama has described the strategy to fight Ebola as an “all-hands-on-deck” approach. including hospital preparedness, vaccine development, airport screenings and troop deployment.

Frieden and Fauci have taken the lead on addressing the American public on Ebola, making dozens of appearances on top morning talk shows.

Both of their agencies fall under the HHS. Burwell, the organization’s head, has largely remained out of the media spotlight on Ebola. Still, Burwell has pushed back on criticism that she is taking a “back seat” to Ebola last week, saying that she had held at least one meeting on the disease every day since July.

Some in the GOP have been careful to avoid the word “czar,” instead calling for a “single, senior advisor.”

McCain was immediately slammed for supporting an “Ebola czar,” a comment that was seen as hypocritical after he previously compared Obama’s “czars” to the reign of Russian imperialists.

One Republican aide said the word “czar” can conjure negative reactions because it reminds people of “bureaucracy and big government.”

“To me, what everyone is saying is that they want a clear structure, a clear plan. Call it what you want, but how are we going to handle this emergency?” the aide said. 

Tags Chris Coons Frank Wolf Jerry Moran John McCain Rob Portman
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