The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Democrats and the Great ‘Czar’ Panic

Last updated: 07/31/2020 08:00 | 09/17/2009 05:00
Alberto Thompson

Manu Raju talks to Senate Democrats about the Glenn Beck-driven, almost entirely hysterical campaign against “czars.” The fuel: a letter written by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) about “czars.” I’ve reprinted the letter below the jump, but the key bit is this:

I respectfully urge you to disclose as much information as you can about these policy advisors and “czars.”  Specifically, I ask that you identify these individuals’ roles and responsibilities, and provide the judgment(s) of your legal advisors as to whether and how these positions are consistent with the Appointments Clause.

Politico’s take here is — shockingly! — a bit misleading and over-wrought. In addition to Feingold’s letter, there’s Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) saying that “you need to have confirmation” for powerful advisers. There’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who wants more oversight but avers that the way “czars” are defined in the press is wildly misleading: “I don’t think it’s quite fair to call, for example, David Hayes at the Department of Interior a czar.” Somewhat surprisingly, conservative-leaning Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) dismisses the “czar” panic as “something that some talk show hosts have made a great deal out of.” And there’s an eight-month old letter about “czars” from Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Politico packages this as evidence of Democrats “joining the czar wars.”

It’s hard to overstate what a fantastic issue this is for Republicans if it’s covered hysterically. The 40 Republican members of the Senate have filibustered or put holds on many of the president’s nominees, including Dawn Johnsen for the Office of Legal Counsel and Tom Perez at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. They subjected Cass Sunstein to an eight-month series of holds and filibusters which ended only last week — and they continue to include Sunstein in the roll calls of “unaccountable czars.”

Thanks to lazy and sensationalized journalism, Republicans are able to put the breaks on the president’s nominees while complaining, as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) did yesterday, that President Obama’s appointees are “unaccountable to the American people through their elected representatives.” The fact that Republicans, instead of asking questions, are quietly placing “holds” on qualified nominees who have been submitted to the Senate, goes utterly unmentioned.

Feingold’s letter:

Dear Mr. President:

From the beginning of your administration, you have made an admirable commitment to transparency and open government.  You showed the strength of your commitment by sending a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies within a week of your inauguration, stating: “My administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.”

As you know, there has been much discussion about your decisions to create and assign apparently significant policy-making responsibilities to White House and other executive positions; many of the persons filling these positions have come to be referred to in the media and even within your administration as policy “czars.”  I heard firsthand about this issue on several occasions from my constituents in recent town hall meetings in Wisconsin.

The Constitution gives the Senate the duty to oversee the appointment of Executive officers through the Appointments Clause in Article II, section 2.  The Appointments Clause states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise proved for, and which shall be established by law.”  (Emphasis added.)   This clause is an important part of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers, empowering the Senate to weigh in on the appropriateness of significant appointments and assisting in its oversight of the Executive Branch.

As a member of the Senate with the duty to oversee executive appointments and as the Chairman of the Senate Constitution Subcommittee, I respectfully urge you to disclose as much information as you can about these policy advisors and “czars.”  Specifically, I ask that you identify these individuals’ roles and responsibilities, and provide the judgment(s) of your legal advisors as to whether and how these positions are consistent with the Appointments Clause.  I hope that this information will help address some of the concerns that have been raised about new positions in the White House and elsewhere in the Executive Branch, and will inform any hearing that the Subcommittee holds on this topic.

Thank you for considering my views on this important matter.  I very much appreciate your commitment to transparency and open government and look forward to your prompt response.


Russell D. Feingold

United States Senator

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Alberto Thompson | I live in Vancouver, Canada, and work as a web developer and graphic designer. Back end programming (PHP, Django/Python, Ruby on Rails) to front end engineering (HTML, CSS, and jQuery/Javascript), digital usability, user interface, and graphic design are all areas of web development where I spend my days. I'm a huge fan of web creation and design in all of its forms, as well as assisting small businesses and artisans with their online presence.


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