Feingold’s ‘czar’ hearing

FEINGOLD’S ‘CZAR’ HEARING…. For reasons that remain unclear, the Senate Judiciary Committee is spending some time this afternoon holding a hearing “on the role and responsibilities of executive branch ‘czars.'” Lest anyone think Republicans secretly reclaimed the majority when no one was looking, the hearing was initiated and will be led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

It’s a little hard to understand what the point of the hearing. OK, more than a little. As Matt Yglesias noted the other day, “You really have to wonder what Russ Feingold is on about with this hearing into the ‘czar’ pseudo-issue ginned up by Glenn Beck and the right-wing. Like the conservative movement, he wasn’t going on about this when George W. Bush was president.”

The president’s team doesn’t seem to understand the point, either. White House Counsel Greg Craig, responding to a letter from Feingold, explained in written form (pdf) that none of the alleged czars “raises any valid concerns.”

After going through the list of so-called czars — no one seems to know which offices count as “czars” or how many exist — Craig concluded:

In sum, none of the positions described above raises any valid concerns about accountability, transparency, or congressional oversight. It is true that the president has created a small number of new White House positions to assist him in addressing important matters of great public concern, in critical areas such as the environment and health care. Neither the purpose nor the effect of these new positions is to supplant or replace existing federal agencies or departments, but rather to help coordinate their efforts and help devise comprehensive solutions to complex problems. Every President has structured his staff in this manner … this is, and always has been, the traditional role of White House staff.

Or as Greg Sargent put it, “Translation from the lawyerese: Stop trafficking in crazy.”

Now, in fairness, I don’t know why Feingold called this hearing. He’s noted hearing concerns from constituents, and Feingold is up for re-election next year, so maybe he wants to meet some kind of due-diligence test for the folks back home.

Better yet, perhaps Feingold scheduled the hearing because he knows the “czar” complaints from the paranoid right are foolish, and he’s hoping an open, constructive hearing will put the matter to rest once and for all.

At least, that’s why I hope he’s doing this. Because at face value, today’s hearing not only seems like a waste of time, but also seems to validate unhinged tirades from the likes of Beck & Co.