Pub­lic ques­tions Obama’s re­sponse, wants travel ban

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

With piv­otal midterm elec­tions less than three weeks away, the Ebola scare in the U.S. and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s chaotic re­sponse are hit­ting at the worst pos­si­ble mo­ment for Pres­i­dent Obama and con­gres­sional Democrats.

Two-thirds of vot­ers are telling poll­sters this week that they want the ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­pose a travel ban on air­line pas­sen­gers from three Ebola-rav­aged coun­tries in West Africa. The White House re­jected that pro­posal again Thurs­day, say­ing it would drive po­ten­tially in­fected trav­el­ers un­der­ground and make it harder to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Poll­sters say this ten­sion with the pub­lic, cou­pled with the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion’s mud­dled han­dling of the cri­sis, will fur­ther hurt a pres­i­dent with slump­ing job ap­proval rat­ings all year.

“It’s pretty clear that the best pol­i­tics is to do a travel ban,” said Jon McHenry, vice pres­i­dent of North Star Opin­ion Re­search in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia. “In that sense, the pres­i­dent, re­gard­less of what’s go­ing on be­hind scenes, seems to be de­tached and in­ac­tive on another sit­u­a­tion that peo­ple care about. This is yet another case that seems to show a lack of lead­er­ship on his part.”

Mr. Obama was de­scribed pri­vately as angry at an emer­gency Cab­i­net meet­ing Wed­nes­day and de­manded an­swers after a sec­ond health care worker at a Dal­las hos­pi­tal con­tracted Ebola even though ad­vis­ers told the pres­i­dent that such an out­come was un­likely.

“The pres­i­dent was very fo­cused on … get­ting an­swers to some very ba­sic and di­rect ques­tions about what hap­pened in Dal­las and what steps are be­ing taken to cor­rect those short­com­ings that have cropped up,” said White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest.

Democrats on Capi­tol Hill are de­mand­ing an­swers, too. At a con­gres­sional hear­ing Thurs­day, Rep. Bruce L. Bra­ley of Iowa, who is locked in a tight race for a Se­nate seat, crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the Ebola cri­sis.

“I am greatly con­cerned … that the ad­min­is­tra­tion did not act fast enough in re­spond­ing in Texas,” Mr. Bra­ley said.

Mr. Obama was busy Thurs­day call­ing law­mak­ers to make sure they “are aware of the [Ebola] strat­egy that we’re pur­su­ing and are on­board with it,” Mr. Earnest said.

“If they have some sug­ges­tions for some poli­cies that we can put in place that might ben­e­fit this re­sponse, then we’re cer­tainly go­ing to con­sider those as well,” he said.

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans also are try­ing to avoid blame for the cri­sis. The of­fice of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio re­leased a list this week of 14 ac­tions that House Repub­li­cans have taken since Au­gust to ad­dress Ebola, in­clud­ing the ap­pro­pri­a­tion of $750 mil­lion re­quested by the ad­min­is­tra­tion to fund a Pen­tagon-led hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion in West Africa.

Even for­mer White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney said this week that moves such as a travel ban and trans­fer­ring in­fected pa­tients in the U.S. to spe­cial­ized hos­pi­tals “would be wise de­ci­sions to make.”

Richard Kelsey, an as­sis­tant dean at the George Ma­son Univer­sity Law School, said Mr. Obama should use his much-touted ex­ec­u­tive pen to take more steps to pro­tect the pub­lic.

“Where’s the pen?,” Mr. Kelsey asked. “Mr. Obama used his pen to give amnesty to il­le­gal aliens. He has di­rected his ad­min­is­tra­tive state to tighten [En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency] reg­u­la­tions. He has at­tempted to side­step the Se­nate on treaty au­thor­ity with re­spect to cli­mate change. His prin­ci­pal duty as pres­i­dent is to pro­tect Americans. This pres­i­dent could prop­erly use his pow­ers by mak­ing common-sense travel bans from Ebola hot spots. For po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, he sim­ply doggedly and ide­o­log­i­cally re­fuses to do so.”

Poll­sters say it’s too soon to gauge the im­pact of the cri­sis on the elec­tions, but it’s clear the pub­lic is fo­cus­ing in­tently on Ebola.

A Wall Street Jour­nal/NBC News survey this week found that 97 per­cent of re­spon­dents knew about the treat­ment and death of Thomas Eric Dun­can, a Liberian man who died of the dis­ease in a Dal­las hos­pi­tal last week. Ebola is the most rec­og­nized news story of Mr. Obama’s pres­i­dency, more widely known than the Is­lamic State be­head­ings of Western jour­nal­ists this year (94 per­cent) and the Trayvon Martin shoot­ing in 2012 (91 per­cent).

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are con­cerned about an Ebola epi­demic in the U.S., ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News poll, de­spite re­peated as­sur­ances from Mr. Obama and other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials that the chances of an out­break are min­i­mal. That survey found the num­ber of Americans who say the gov­ern­ment should be do­ing more to pre­vent ad­di­tional Ebola cases in the U.S. is almost twice the num­ber who be­lieve the gov­ern­ment is do­ing all it can to con­trol the spread of the virus.

The poll shows that 91 per­cent fa­vor stricter screen­ings of pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing from West Africa.

The Ebola in­fec­tions and the CDC’s mis­steps are keep­ing the news story alive and mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for Demo­cratic can­di­dates to talk about top­ics other than the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­par­ent in­com­pe­tence, Mr. McHenry said.

“It’s another is­sue on which Democrats are hav­ing to de­fend the pres­i­dent or turn around and at­tack the coun­try’s re­sponse on this,” he said. “At a time when they want to be talk­ing about almost any­thing else, they’re talk­ing about the ad­min­is­tra­tion again.”

He added, “It re­in­forces a pat­tern of what peo­ple be­lieve that they’re see­ing — a lack of lead­er­ship, a lack of en­gage­ment. Whether it’s be­ing slow to re­act in Ukraine, slow to re­act in Syria with [the Is­lamic State], he char­i­ta­bly has a very de­lib­er­ate ap­proach but, be­ing less char­i­ta­ble, seems to not put the sense of ur­gency on is­sues that vot­ers want him to have.”

How the cri­sis plays out po­lit­i­cally might well de­pend on whether any more cases of Ebola sur­face in the U.S., Mr. McHenry said.

“If some­one in Ohio winds up get­ting this, then it’s go­ing to look like a pan­demic to the pub­lic,” he said. “I’m sure more peo­ple are go­ing to die from the flu this year [in the U.S.] than from Ebola, but the news me­dia has a fresh story to run with ev­ery day, there’s a new facet to it ev­ery day.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Work­ers at Cleve­land Hop­kins In­ter­na­tional Air­port un­load bags from the Fron­tier Air­lines plane that Am­ber Joy Vin­son flew to Dal­las last week. Ms. Vin­son is the sec­ond nurse to have a case of Ebola di­ag­nosed at Texas Health Pres­by­te­rian Hos­pi­tal.

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