Obama calls lawmakers on Ebola

Obama calls lawmakers on Ebola
© Getty Images

President Obama on Thursday placed calls to congressional leaders to discuss the Ebola crisis.

Obama spoke with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), White House and congressional officials said.

Obama, who scrapped two days of campaign activities after the diagnosis of a second Texas healthcare worker, was expected to discuss the administration's strategy for responding to the virus amid stepped up criticism of its handling of the affair so far.

The White House also hinted that Obama could be looking for more money from Congress.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Congress obviously controls the purse strings, and so it’s important for us to make sure that members of Congress who have an interest in this issue and have an interest in the kinds of policies that will contribute to this response are aware of the strategy that we’re pursuing and are on board with it,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “We certainly want to give those members of Congress an opportunity to offer up their advice.”

When pressed on whether the White House would pursue an additional funding request, Earnest said it was possible and that he “wouldn't take it off the table.”

While it remained “unclear at this point whether or not that would be needed,” the president wanted to have that conversation, so it's “not a surprise to either them or us.”

Pelosi on Thursday said the House Appropriations Committee should “return to Washington immediately" to discuss funding levels to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Congress has already cleared the Pentagon to reallocate $750 million to fight Ebola, and lawmakers separately funded an additional $88 million in the most recent continuing resolution.

Earnest shrugged off one suggestion that has gotten plenty of traction on Capitol Hill — implementing a travel ban against the three West African countries currently grappling with the Ebola virus.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) has said he plans to introduce legislation implementing such a ban, and dozens of lawmakers have voiced support.

The White House would not say if the president would veto such legislation, but Earnest said a travel ban was “not something that we're considering.”

The administration argues such a move would lead individuals traveling from West Africa to lie about their travel history and seek different ways in the United States, such as using multiple flights, complicating efforts to control the virus. The administration also thinks doing so would stop the flow of supplies and medical professionals to the affected region, which risks prolonging the outbreak there.

“The only way we can completely eliminate risk of the Ebola virus to the American public is stopping the outbreak at its source. We need to make sure that we’re surging supplies and equipment and personnel to the region, not putting in place a travel ban that would only restrict the movement of those materials that are critical to the effort to stem the outbreak at the source,” Earnest said.

In addition to his outreach with Congress, Obama will also convene a follow-up meeting with some of the senior administration officials who he met with Wednesday to discuss the crisis. And Obama also plans to call additional foreign leaders about the crisis.

This story was updated at 4:48 p.m.