Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling on the Obama White House to explain their top policy makers, also known as “czars,” and to clarify what exactly these men and women in such high positions are doing in the government, particularly as some fall outside of congressional oversight.
House Republicans have introduced three resolutions aimed at forcing the President to fully disclose how the advisers were vetted and to explain why they shouldn't be subjected a full Senate confirmation process. Texas Representative Ted Poe (R) asks, "Are these czars advisors or are they policy makers?" Poe says the distinction is important and ultimately mandates whether or not the lack of a Senate confirmation amounts to a violation of the U.S. Constitution. A number of Republicans say their constituents are voicing concerns about possible unchecked power. "They see these czar positions being handed out as candy suckers and they wonder what kind of accountability and transparency comes with these czars," Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) said Wednesday.
But the Obama White House is firing back. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Wednesday the “czar” positions have existed for years. “They're positions in the administration, they're positions in the previous administration,” Gibbs said. “I think these are positions that date back at least to, you know, many, many administrations, where there may be policy coordination between many different departments in order to make governmental responses more efficient.” Gibbs went on to cite two “czar” positions he said were pushed by Republican Senators Robert Bennett (UT) and Lamar Alexander (TN), the Y2K czar and a manufacturing czar.
Shortly after Gibbs finished speaking to reporters, White House communications director Anita Dunn wrote a blog post on the White House website stating there is no such thing as the title of "czar" 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," Dunn wrote. " 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 neither Gibbs nor Dunn persuaded many on Capitol Hill, with spokespersons to Senators Bennett and Alexander firing off statements. “Unlike President Obama’s creation of czars, the Y2K czar was a temporary position for a temporary situation with date certain event,” Bennett’s spokeswoman, Tara Hendershott, told Fox. “Bennett’s concern with the Obama administration’s czars is that we have no information on their specific duties and whether or not their authority is limited to ensure that the czars do not undermine current cabinet positions within the executive office. Nice try, Mr. Gibbs.”
A senior Alexander aide told Fox the White House had clearly not listened to or read any comments by the senator regarding a manufacturing czar, providing Alexander’s comments from the Senate Floor on Monday where the senator said manufacturing “czars” in previous administrations were within the Commerce department and received Senate confirmation.
Senator Alexander gave an exclusive statement to Fox News. “The White House staff should review my full remarks before launching an attack. I made it clear that there have always been a few czars but nothing like the 18 new czars appointed in this administration. Eighteen of the administration’s 32 czars hold new positions that did not exist in previous administrations and were not authorized by law," Alexander said. "These czars are unconfirmed by the Senate, unavailable for questioning, and unaccountable to the American people through their elected representatives. They’re the most visible symbol of too many Washington takeovers. The White House should spend less time misrepresenting others’ views and more time answering legitimate questions from Senators Collins, Bennett, myself and others: What are these new czars’ authorities and responsibilities? How are they being vetted? How will they be accountable to Congress?”
Earlier this week, Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) sent a letter directly to White House Counsel Gregory Craig, outlining "grave concern" and saying of the czars, "a pattern of behavior and associations maintained by some individuals runs contrary to the very core of our democracy." The letter specifically mentioned former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones, noting that he was a "self-described communist." Today, Issa equated the czars to a "shadow cabinet" and says it's operating without the legitimacy and oversight necessary to any cabinet-level position.
Republicans aren't the only ones voicing concerns. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) told the President he also heard concerns about the czars firsthand on several occasions during town hall meetings in his home state. In a letter dated, September 15, 2009, Feingold wrote:
As a member of the Senate with the duty to oversee executive appointments and as the Chairman of
the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I respectfully urge you to disclose as
much information as you can about these policy advisors and "czars."
Issa went much further, detailing a lengthy list of what he expects the White House to turn over, and set the deadline for September 29th.
To read Anita Dunn's full blog post on the White House website, click here
Fox News Correspondent Shannon Bream and Senior Senate Producer Trish Turner contributed to this report.