Support is building in Congress for imposing a travel ban on West African countries that are dealing with Ebola, with some Republicans calling for a vote after the midterm elections.
The number of lawmakers supporting travel restrictions surged Thursday to more than 70, according to a tally by The Hill. The majority of supporters are Republicans, with a just a handful of Democrats backing the idea.
Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnThe Trail 2016: Miss Universe crashes campaign Former Miss Universe becomes surprise story to emerge from debate Overnight Healthcare: Mylan CEO faces bipartisan outrage over EpiPen pricing MORE (R-Tenn.), the vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Congress should vote on a travel ban if Obama doesn’t put one in place by the time lawmakers reconvene in mid-November.
"If one has not been implemented by that point in time, I think you will definitely see a vote on a travel ban," Blackburn told The Hill.
During a House Energy and Commerce Oversight subcommittee hearing Thursday with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, Rep. Michael BurgessMichael BurgessCommerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee pursues an active agenda Lawmakers press concerns over fuel efficiency rules Conservative committee wants House to vote first on funding bill MORE (R-Texas) also urged a vote on legislation.
"People are asking that we do that, and they are exactly correct to make that request," Burgess said.
At least one bill restricting travel is already in the works.
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) plans to introduce legislation when Congress returns to restrict visas to people departing from any country where the Ebola outbreak has reached "epidemic proportions." The bill would also prohibit travel to and from the epidemic countries until the CDC declares the disease to be contained.
Lawmakers could also impose restrictions on travel in the new appropriations bill that they must pass before government funding runs out.
The funding expires on Dec. 11, putting pressure on Congress to pass either an omnibus spending bill covering all of fiscal 2015 or a stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown.
Rep. Gene GreenGene GreenTop Dem: Cures bill funding cut to B Lawmakers pledge push for cures bill in lame-duck The unfulfilled promise of mental health parity MORE (D-Texas) suggested that a travel ban could be included as a rider to the appropriations bill.
"There very well may be, because when we come back we've got to do a new CR, and there will be lots of things probably to deal with" as part of that package, Green said.
The Obama administration has fought calls for a travel ban, arguing it would be counterproductive and make it harder for healthcare workers to reach the three countries most affected by Ebola: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Frieden told lawmakers a travel ban remains on the table along with "any options to better protect Americans," but said the restrictions would make it harder to screen people for the virus, since people from those countries might travel undetected.
"Right now, we know who is coming in," Frieden said.
"If we tried to eliminate travel … we won't be able to check them for fever when they leave. We won't be able to check for fever when they arrive. We won't be able to take a detailed travel history. We won't be able to obtain detailed locating information to pass it to local public health officials."
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight subcommittee, said a travel ban would only make it harder for the U.S. to track people traveling from affected regions.
"Let's not fool ourselves. A travel ban is not going to stop Ebola," DeGette told The Hill.
DeGette said a congressional vote on a travel ban would politicize a public health crisis
"This a very real international health threat. I think Congress politicizing this two and a half weeks before the election is the last thing we should do," DeGette said.
House Republican leaders have not yet committed to a vote on a travel ban.
During a press conference Thursday, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) put the onus on Obama to act.
"Right now, the ball's in the president's court," Scalise said. "Let's see what the president says."
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (R-Ohio) has also urged the Obama administration to consider a travel ban. But he also isn't suggesting yet that the House will have a vote, and suggests Obama already has the authority he needs to put a travel ban in place.
"The House will continue to conduct rigorous oversight, which, along with discussions with our members, will help inform our path forward as we continue to assess the administration’s response," BoehnerJohn Boehner3 ways the next president can succeed on immigration reform Republican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE spokesman Kevin Smith said.
— Mike Lillis and Sarah Ferris contributed.