Ebola becomes political fight

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Ebola is becoming an issue for the midterm election campaign, with several Republicans using the spread of the virus to the United States to criticize President Obama’s leadership.

Republican lawmakers are accusing Obama of underplaying the threat. They say the national response to the discovery of an infected patient in Dallas has been woefully inadequate.

“I am concerned about it, and it’s a big mistake to downplay it and act as if it’s not a big deal,” Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat the 'Bernie Sanders wing of the GOP' can teach Congress GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? MORE (R-Ky.) told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. He said Obama officials are putting “political correctness” ahead of public health.

Conservatives, meanwhile, are hammering Obama for saying two weeks ago it was “unlikely” that Ebola could ever reach America.

Texas health officials on Thursday said they are now questioning about 100 people who may have been exposed to Ebola, with four people placed under quarantine, as they try to prevent a wider outbreak.

Paul and other Republicans have honed in on the White House’s refusal to put limits on air travel, a step taken by airlines such as British Airways and Kenya Airways. Both have canceled many flights to Africa.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintain that restricting air travel would harm the Ebola response in West Africa, but Republicans say the government needs to take action.

Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanDemocrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Five takeaways from Florida Senate debate Endangered GOP senator: I don't know for whom I'll vote MORE (R-Ohio) is pushing for the government to question all passengers coming to the United States from countries where Ebola is spreading to ensure they haven’t been exposed to the virus.

“Recent events highlight the need for elevated levels of screening at U.S. ports of entry,” Portman said in a statement Thursday. “The time for action has come and gone and the CDC has yet to answer why they are resisting this next commonsense step that is long overdue.”

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael BurgessGOP: Obama ‘in denial’ about healthcare law failures Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee pursues an active agenda Lawmakers press concerns over fuel efficiency rules MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill on Thursday that the Obama administration could have prevented Ebola from entering the U.S. if State Department officials had been more vigilant against the threat.

Burgess said the administration needed to “better control” people who are traveling into the country from areas where Ebola is rampant. Liberian officials said Thursday that the man who brought the virus into the U.S. had lied about his exposure to the deadly virus before boarding a flight to Dallas.

“My only question is, where was our State Department? Why weren’t they as involved in this as the Liberian government?” Burgess said.

Burgess said Obama should directly address the nation about the Ebola response because too many people “didn’t know what to believe” from the administration’s mixed messages.

The CDC maintains that Ebola will be quickly contained and that a wider outbreak is extremely unlikely, a message that has been voiced repeatedly by the White House.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated on Wednesday that the U.S. would continue its policy of requiring airport screenings for all West African passengers heading to its borders.

Republicans have also slammed the Obama administration’s lack of coordination among its health and security agencies, which they see as a hinderance to the U.S. response.

The White House announced a major, military-led offensive against the outbreak on Sept. 16, but some lawmakers argue an “Ebola czar” is needed to lead the effort.

Sen. Jerry MoranJerry MoranChasing away scalpers only hurts consumers GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform MORE (R-Kansas) said Thursday that lawmakers don’t know what resources are needed to control Ebola because “there is no person to go to, to tell us how all this is going to be funded.”

“I don’t think there is a person in charge,” Moran, the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee’s health subcommittee, told BuzzFeed. “And I don’t think there is a plan internationally to bring the folks together to combat this.”

Some House Democrats are also questioning how local and federal health officials are managing the response to Ebola, though they have yet to directly criticize the administration.

In a letter to GOP leadership of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Democratic lawmakers questioned why the Liberian man who experienced symptoms of Ebola had been sent home after he first arrived for treatment. He later returned to the hospital in an ambulance and was diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday.

But Democrats are also arguing that a lack of health funding has weakened the nation’s response to preventing Ebola.

“Funding for biomedical research is crucial and when Congress works on a funding bill in the coming months we need to ensure the [National Institutes of Health] is fully funded,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement this week.

The nation’s two largest health agencies — the CDC and the National Institutes of Health — have taken a hit from budget cuts in recent years.