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 BlackburnGOP rep: ObamaCare debate like trying get kids 'through bathtime' Senate on the verge of vote to kill FCC's consumer privacy protections Overnight Tech: Lawmakers spar over rural broadband | Twitter sees bump in government data requests | Bill Gates visits Capitol Hill 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 BurgessAds dare conservatives to oppose Trump on health plan GOP rep: I want people to have both iPhones and healthcare The Hill's Whip List: 34 GOP 'no' votes on ObamaCare repeal plan 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 GreenLobbying World A guide to the committees: House Overnight Healthcare: Trump officials weigh fate of birth control mandate | House, DOJ seek delay in ObamaCare lawsuit 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 BoehnerGOP rushes to vote without knowing full impact of healthcare plan Dem senator to reintroduce ‘buy American’ legislation GOP senators offer bill to require spending cuts with debt-limit hikes 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 BoehnerGOP rushes to vote without knowing full impact of healthcare plan Dem senator to reintroduce ‘buy American’ legislation GOP senators offer bill to require spending cuts with debt-limit hikes MORE spokesman Kevin Smith said.
— Mike Lillis and Sarah Ferris contributed.