Democrats push back on travel ban

Greg Nash

House Democrats are pushing back hard against proposals to institute a travel ban in the fight against the Ebola virus.

A growing number of lawmakers — mostly Republicans — are urging the Obama administration to bar travel to the United States for the roughly 13,000 foreign visa holders living in the West African countries where the disease is most rampant.

But Democrats are rejecting that strategy, arguing that it would both be ineffective and could worsen the epidemic in those African hot spots.

{mosads}Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said Wednesday that U.S. officials should instead focus their efforts on enhanced health screenings, both overseas and in domestic airports, and cement the healthcare protocols designed to eliminate the spread of the disease in the United States.

“I don’t think we gain anything by spending our time talking about quarantines” of entire countries, Jackson Lee said in a phone interview. “We don’t have an epidemic, and for that reason I don’t think that calling for a quarantine of countries answers the question. We have to turn internally and look at our own selves and make sure our health infrastructure is where it needs to be.”

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) agreed, characterizing a travel ban as an ill-advised “quick fix” that “will only exacerbate the epidemic in the region.”

“Aside from being impractical, this reactionary strategy will force Ebola patients underground making it nearly impossible to track their movements, hinder the capacity for international healthcare workers to transport and administer critical aid, and erode the continent’s fragile economy,” Moore said Wednesday in a statement. 

The comments come as the debate over how U.S. response to the Ebola threat has taken a decidedly partisan turn, even in Texas, where a second healthcare worker was diagnosed with the disease early Wednesday morning.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of conservatives in calling on the administration to bar travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — where Ebola has reached epidemic levels — until those countries have eradicated the threat.

“Common sense dictates that we should impose a travel ban on commercial airline flights from nations afflicted by Ebola,” Cruz told the Dallas Morning News. “There’s no reason to allow ongoing commercial air traffic out of those countries.”

Last week, a group of Texas House Republicans wrote to President Obama urging such a ban “until the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has significantly subsided or ended.” 

The group joins a separate group of 27 House lawmakers who penned a similar letter to Obama calling for immediate travel restrictions “until such countries have defeated the epidemic.”

Three Democrats — Reps. Alan Grayson (Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Dave Loebsack (Iowa) — were among the 27 endorsing that message. 

Still, the three Democrats appear to be outliers within their party — at least, so far.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said he’s “pleased” with the administration’s strategy of screening travelers and evaluating healthcare protocols to combat Ebola. 

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) said that, while “tensions are high” surrounding the topic, he supports “the work the administration is doing right now” to rein in the disease.  

And Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) — both of whom represent parts of Dallas, where the two healthcare workers contracted Ebola while treating a Liberian man who died last week of the disease — said they also oppose a travel ban. 

“It is now more important than ever to follow the advice and guidance of the medical professionals and infectious disease specialists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) in order to prevent any additional Ebola infections,” Veasey told The Hill in an email. 

CDC leaders, meanwhile, remain opposed to an outright ban on travel.

“If we do things that unintentionally make it harder to get that response in, to get supplies in,” it will “become much harder to stop the outbreak at the source,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said this week.

That response hasn’t sat well with some Republicans, who began Wednesday to call for Frieden’s resignation.

On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subpanel on Oversight and Investigations will stage a hearing in Washington on the administration’s handling of the crisis.

Frieden is among the officials scheduled to testify. 

Tags Alan Grayson Gene Green Gwen Moore Sheila Jackson Lee Ted Cruz
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