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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Gingrich No Fan of Czars

Newt Gingrich referenced an old claim spread by conservative commentator Glenn Beck about supposed White House "czars," saying he would "abolish all the White House czars" his first day in office if he were elected president.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, the Republican presidential candidate said he would immediately sign executive orders, and "the first executive order by the way would abolish all the White House czars."

Does that mean he would get rid of the director of national intelligence ("intelligence czar") or the director of the National Economic Council ("economics czar") or the well-known "drug czar" (director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy)? No. Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler told us the candidate was referring to advisers Obama appointed without allowing Senate confirmation. (There are no official "czars" in the Obama administration — or any previous administration for that matter. Rather, this is a media, or administration, nickname.) We found in September 2009 that eight so-called czars were new positions, appointed by President Obama and unconfirmed, and Tyler said that number sounded about right.

So, Gingrich is talking about eliminating about eight positions, such as the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; the senior adviser for the president’s Automotive Task Force; the special adviser for green jobs, enterprise, and innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality; the chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board; and the White House director of urban affairs.

We noted in our 2009 report that some of those are similar to the types of positions President George W. Bush created, such as the "World Trade Center health czar," the "Gulf Coast reconstruction czar" or even the "faith-based czar." The Obama White House had agreed to defund four "czar" positions as part of a budget deal with House Speaker John Boehner. But then the president issued a signing statement saying he could continue to appoint such advisers — whatever you’d like to call them.

Gingrich also reiterated a past claim that we had highlighted hours prior to his announcement — saying he had helped balance the federal budget for four years, when he was only in Congress for two of those years. Call us prescient. He made the same exaggerated statement twice, in fact.

First, in his official announcement, he said: "And for four years, we balanced the budget and paid off $405 billion in debt." And then, in the Fox interview, he said: "We then balanced it for four consecutive years. We paid off $405 billion in debt. Nobody thought we could do it when it started. We did it."

The budget was balanced from 1998-2001, and Gingrich left office in January 1999. As we’ve said before, that means he was in Congress for two of those budget years, when the government racked up a surplus of $194.9 billion.