After huddling with a handful of advisers Thursday afternoon, President Obama told reporters he cold be open to the idea of an Ebola czar.
On Friday morning, CNN reported that Obama would name lobbyist and former Vice President Al Gore’s and VP Joe Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain to the position.
The Democratic Party operative has worked as a lawyer since leaving the White House in 2011. He led the legal team fighting for Gore in the 2000 recount and was portrayed by Kevin Spacey in HBO’s Recount.
A day after pulling together his cabinet to talk Ebola, Obama met with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.
“The President’s advisors detailed for him the status of the investigation into how the Dallas healthcare workers were exposed to the virus and updated him on the contact tracing process, which allows health officials to identify and, as necessary, monitor all individuals who may have come into contact with the patients following their exposure,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting. “They also discussed the steps the President ordered to enhance the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ability to respond rapidly, safely, and effectively upon the diagnosis of an Ebola case domestically.”
Obama told reporters that he had spoken with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, “who is on top of it,” regarding the trip of nurse Amber Vinson to the state while she was symptomatic.
“We don’t know yet exactly what happened,” he said of how the healthcare workers contracted Ebola from Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan, mirroring the CDC’s head-scratching at how the protective system failed.
Obama also spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and said Perry had “legitimate concerns in terms of making sure that the federal government is surging the kinds of resources that they need in order to handle any eventuality there, to make sure that folks not just at Texas Presbyterian, but potentially at other health care facilities, have the training and the equipment that they need.”
The president addressed the idea of a travel ban “because I know it’s been a topic consistently in the news.”
“I don’t have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban, if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe,” he said. “The problem is, in all the discussions I’ve had thus far, with experts in the field, experts in infectious disease, is that a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting, that involve screening passengers who are coming from West Africa.”
“…If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we’ve put in place now, history shows that there’s a likelihood of increased avoidance. People do not readily disclose their information. They may engage in something called ‘broken travel,’ essentially breaking up their trips so they can hide the fact that they have been to one of these countries where there’s a disease in place. And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease. They’re less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly, and as a consequence, we could end up having more cases rather than less.”
Obama said he understands “people are worried,” but “what remains true is that that is not an airborne disease. It is not easy to catch.”
On the subject of a point person to oversee the anti-Ebola effort, Obama said “up until this point, the individuals here have been running point and doing an outstanding job in dealing with what is a very complicated and fluid situation.”
Lawmakers calling for an Ebola czar have noted that Monaco and Rice are primarily tasked with counterterrorism as ISIS rampages across its caliphate, and Obama acknowledged the two “are responsible for a whole bunch of other stuff.”
“So, it may make sense for us to have one person, in part just so that after this initial surge of activity, we can have a more regular process, just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward. OK?” the president said. “If I appoint somebody, I’ll let you know. All right?”
Recommendations from lawmakers for the Ebola czar included Bush-era Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, Bush-era Surgeon General Richard Carmona, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.