Can Ebola become a winning issue for Republicans?
Republicans have taken the first tentative steps in politicizing the Ebola case in Texas, as the president left them a clear opening with his dismissive attitude toward the disease and belief that it would never come to America.
But caution should be taken in criticizing Obama since a serious outbreak would create a backlash against the GOP for trying to capitalize politically on tragedy.
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 Paul (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 Portman (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 Burgess (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.
More criticism will likely come from recent statements from the White House and CDC that a travel ban to and fron Liberia and other West African nations would be "counterproductive." The problem is that we are placing out trust in third world healthcare workers at airports whose job is to screen passengers for elevated temperatures. These workers are part of the same system that allowed Ebola to get out of control in the first place.
Doesn't exactly fill us with confidence.
So far, there has been little pushback from the White House on these attacks. Expect that to change, especially if several more cases of Ebola come to light.