News Intelligence Analysis
From The Hill
White House is blocking Dem donor
By Bob Cusack
The White House has refused to promote a key official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who has worked on healthcare problems confronting Iraq and Afghanistan because he contributed to the Democratic Party four years ago, The Hill has learned.
He is Howard Zucker, a pediatric cardiologist and anesthesiologist who is deputy assistant secretary for health, science technology and medicine. He earned his medical degree at age 22 and has law degrees from Fordham University and Columbia University. He has also worked with NASA astronauts at MIT designing experiments for the space shuttle.
Bush administration officials say Zuckers ascent at HHS has been halted because he donated $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee in October, 2000.
Sources say HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson wants to name Zucker, 45, as one of his top deputy secretaries of health. But the White House has refused to approve the appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation. An HHS source said Zuckers promotion has been on hold for over a year.
This is not the first time the White House has placed a top healthcare-post nominee on hold because of political contributions.
In 2001, the White House temporarily delayed Tom Scullys nomination to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because he contributed to Democrats as well as Republicans.
The controversy was short-lived because Scully explained that, as a lobbyist, he needed to give to both sides and that he had personal relationships with the Democrats he contributed to. That explanation would not work for Zucker, whose first taste of politics was in 2001, when he was appointed a White House fellow and assigned to Thompson.
The White House fellows program is designed to give the recipients an understanding of how Washington works and then take that experience back home. But Thompson regarded Zucker so highly that he offered him a full-time job at HHS.
After joining HHS, Zucker contributed to President Bush on three separate occasions, totaling $925.
Like all administrations, political contributions factor into the Bush White Houses personnel decisions and are a regular part of the vetting process. Some political observers say, however, that contributions are especially important to this administration where loyalty is expected and rewarded.
Zucker contributed to the DNC when he was an associate professor of clinical pediatrics and anesthesiology at Columbia.
Over the past four years, White House officials have scrutinized candidates for top healthcare positions. One GOP candidate described the interview process as mostly designed to see how much of a Republican you are.
Zucker referred comment to HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who declined to answer questions about the status of Zuckers pending promotion, which would make him a political appointee instead of a career employee.
The White House did not return phone calls seeking comment.
In the Byzantine world of government titles, Zuckers appointment falls under the category of Schedule C, which requires advance approval from the White House Office of Presidential Personnel but not the Senate. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is among the most high-profile spots that fall under Schedule C.
Schedule C officials usually leave the government soon after their party loses control of the White House.
There are Democrats in high-ranking positions in the Bush administration, including Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Carolyn Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In 2001 and 2002, Clancy contributed to Sen. Paul Wellstones (D-Minn.) campaign and EMILYs List.
In February, Zucker accompanied Thompson to Iraq in an effort to assess and rebuild the countrys healthcare system. Last month, Thompson praised Zucker for spearheading the administrations effort to educate people in Afghanistan on healthcare issues, ranging from immunization to child nutrition.
When he announced the initiative, Thompson said, We could not have done any of this without the drive and dedication of Dr. Howard Zucker.
ABCs World News Tonight named Zucker a person of the week in 1993. He has traveled on medical missions to China, helping orphans in need of reconstructive surgery, according to Zuckers biography, posted on the HHS website.
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