Businesses quietly push back at Ebola travel ban

Businesses are pushing back against lawmakers' calls to impose a ban on travelers from the three West Africa nations at the center of the Ebola epidemic.

Public opposition is coming from U.S. airlines, who have seen their stocks hit because of fears the Ebola scare will lead to a drop in travel.

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Other business groups are quietly telling the White House to stand firm in opposing a ban.

They echo arguments from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a ban would isolate Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, potentially making it tougher to slow the epidemic in those countries.

But they also argue it would hurt the global economy.

“There's a lot of emotion and fear and that will drive the political conversation but the solution lawmakers are putting on the table is contrary to logic and science,” said K. Riva Levinson, managing director of KRL International.

Levinson is helping support a coalition of more than 50 global companies, including Shell and PWC, many of which oppose a travel ban.

Administration officials briefed business groups and stakeholders Friday about the White House effort on Ebola.

Polls show broad public support for the idea of a travel ban, and nearly 70 House members have come out in favor of a ban. So have 14 senators, including Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganGOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE (D-N.C.), who is in a tight reelection race.

That’s worried business groups, and made it tougher for trade associations to loudly oppose the idea, sources said.

“It’s very politically toxic,” said one K Street adviser familiar with big business' thinking. “They’re trying to play around the edges a bit without making too much noise.”

Representatives for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) declined comment for this story. Those organizations have not voiced support or opposition to the idea of a travel ban.

“This is such a highly sensitive issue with the elections coming up,” said Stephen Hayes, CEO at The Corporate Council on Africa (CCA).

He argues the travel bans would cut off the West Africa nations' efforts to get supplies, in addition to hurting the economy.

“Lives have to be the most important factor but in terms of businesses, the travel ban would devastate a lot of businesses,” said Hayes, whose group includes Ford, Exxon Mobil and Boeing as members.

Hayes said that he expects more prominent business groups, including the Chamber, to join calls against a travel ban in the coming weeks if the situation escalates.

Right now, the most vocal opposition in business circles is coming from the airlines.

“Unfortunately, given the political climate this is an easy way of politicizing something that has nothing to do with the situation,” said Eddie Bergman, executive director of the Africa Travel Association, whose members include Delta Airlines.

The administration has argued that a travel ban would be ineffective since travelers could enter the United States from other countries.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from Ebola in the United States last week, flew from Liberia to Brussels, and then to Washington, D.C. and Dallas. Authorities believe he lied when asked in Brussels to report any contact he had with Ebola.

Still, President Obama told reporters Thursday that he wasn't opposed to implementing a
travel ban “if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe."

Congress has a hearing scheduled on the issue next week.

Hayes said that a travel ban could undo much of the progress forged during August's U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Washington, where U.S. businesses pledged more than $35 billion in investments on the continent.

“If this continues to spread, it's going to make it harder for people to say, 'I want to do business with Africa,’” Hayes said.