The PJ Tatler

House Hearing Puts Ebola Front and Center in Key Senate Race

A House in recess will come back together on Thursday as the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations grills the nation’s top health officials on what is being done to stop the spread of Ebola.

The hearing has campaign implications as well. A new CNN poll has Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) opening a 4-point lead over Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) in his bid to oust the incumbent. It’s a time to be on the campaign trail — the purpose of this month’s recess — but Gardner will be at the hearing tomorrow.

He’ll also reiterate his call for a ban on flights from the West African countries at the epicenter of the outbreak.

“Ebola is a serious health threat and should not be taken lightly,” Gardner said in a statement Tuesday. “This hearing will give us the opportunity to determine the different routes we can take to prevent the spread of Ebola, including a travel ban on flights to and from the affected countries in West Africa, as well as 100 percent virus screening for passengers whose travels originated from or passed through West Africa.”

“A travel ban would help contain the virus and prevent it from being introduced in new places, as we’ve already seen happen in the United States,” he added. “Our next step must be to develop a series of deliberate measures designed to restrict the spread of Ebola to keep Coloradans, Americans, and the citizens of the world safe from this horrific virus. We can prevent future tragedies in the United States, but we must institute policies that assist in that effort.”

Udall is among the Democrats accusing Republicans of exacerbating the problem through budget cuts to Centers for Disease Control.

His spokesman told the Denver Post that the senator will support a travel ban “if health and preparedness experts” deem it “necessary to protect Americans.” CDC officials have argued that a travel ban would make the problem grow.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci will be testifying Thursday, along with officials from the FDA, Health and Human Services, and Department of Homeland Security.

“Ebola has been on the world’s radar screen since March and yet the United States and the international community are still scrambling to stay ahead of and stop this outbreak. We remain gravely concerned about this ongoing threat and the committee will continue diligently investigating the response efforts and preparedness plans,” Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a statement. “The stakes could not be any higher, and as I have said before, we cannot afford to look back at this point in history and say we could have done more.”

In a letter two weeks ago to Upton, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the committee needed to be asking questions about “stagnant or declining budgets” for public health agencies.

“Do CDC, USAID, other public health agencies, and U.S. military forces have adequate funding in place to address the immediate public health crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea? How long will this funding last?” Waxman’s letter asked.

“Are CDC and other federal, state, and local officials adequately funded to address the costs – such as tracing, isolating, and diagnosing all potentially affected contacts – of the Dallas patient or any future potential patients with Ebola in the U.S.?… Are U.S. officials and officials in affecting countries adequately screening travelers to and from Africa to prevent importation of additional cases into the United States? Do Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have needs for additional diagnostic or other tools to prevent individuals with Ebola from entering the U.S. undetected?”