In his Washington Times column today, Joseph Curl writes that President Barack Obama could have kept Ebola out of the United States with a few simple words: “No one from West Africa gets into the country.”
It’s hard to argue with that. Had there been a travel ban from West Africa’s Ebola zone to the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan could not have flown here by way of Brussels. Two American nurses would not now have Ebola, straining Texas Presbyterian to the point that they have had to be flown across the country to two of the nation’s four Ebola-ready hospitals.
But the Obama administration has not imposed a travel ban from West Africa’s Ebola zone to the United States.
During today’s Ebola hearing in Congress, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) quizzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden about that.
Dr. Frieden insisted that if we ban travel from the three Ebola-stricken countries, exposed people can just slip into nearby countries and fly from there, and we will be unable to monitor them here.
That’s highly debatable. Several African countries have closed their borders with the Ebola-stricken countries, and they have credited better border security with helping block the spread of Ebola. The borders are porous, true, but the CDC’s argument is now that because we cannot stop all air passenger travel from all of Africa, we cannot stop any of it from the Ebola hot zone.
Upton said, “I looked at the legal language, does the president, does he have the legal authority to impose a travel ban because of health reasons including Ebola, is that not correct?”
Frieden whiffed, “I — I don’t have legal expertise to answer the question.”
As the head of the CDC, Frieden surely knows that presidents do have such authority.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) asked Frieden about the White House’s involvement.
“Have y’all had any conversations within the White House about a travel ban and whether or not the president has the authority? Because many of us have said the president does have the authority to do it today,” Scalise said.
Frieden did not answer, saying instead that CDC “would consider” a ban.
Scalise asked again: “Have you considered that? Have you ruled it out? Have you had conversations with the White House about a travel ban? That’s a yes or no question. Have you had conversations with the White House about a travel ban?”
Friedan against refused to answer directly: “We’ve discussed many aspects.”
Scalise asked again if Frieden has discussed a travel ban with the White House: “I can’t speak for the White House.”
Scalise tried several more times, to ascertain if the White House is discussing the lack of a travel ban with the CDC.
Frieden repeatedly refused to answer.
Watch the exchange here.