House Democrats said Thursday they oppose a travel ban on people coming from Ebola-stricken countries in Africa, going against Republican calls for some form of travel restriction in order to protect Americans from Ebola.
The Democratic comments in the House also support the position taken by the Obama administration, which says it does not support banning people flying from West African countries that have seen Ebola outbreaks.
Chief doctor J. Soka Moses prepares to enter the Ebola ward at JFK Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. After a doctor and close friend at the hospital contracted the virus, Soka stopped accepting patients. In the U.S., some in Congress want to ban people from traveling to the United States from West Africa, but some Democrats said Thursday they oppose that idea. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images
A subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee met Thursday to discuss the government's plan for defeating the Ebola virus in America. The hearing was held just a day after officials confirmed that a second nurse in Dallas contracted the virus from a man who flew to the U.S. from West Africa, an event that has increased calls for a travel ban among Republicans.
But Democratic leaders on both the full committee and the subcommittee said they still support open travel.
"Sealing people off in Africa is not going to keep the from traveling," argued Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the full committee. "They'll travel to Brussels, as one of the people did, and then into the United States."
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, agreed with the administration's logic that blocking travel would make it harder for the U.S. to help contain the outbreak in West Africa. Failure to contain it there, she said, would put Americans more at risk of Ebola.
"There's no such thing as fortress America when it comes to infectious disease," she said. "The best way to stop Ebola is going to be to stop this virus in Africa."
"Experts from Doctors Without Borders have told us that a quarantine on travel would have 'catastrophic impacts on West Africa,' " she added.
Those comments were met with more criticism from Republicans, who said there should be a way to prevent people from traveling to the U.S. from West Africa, and yet still allow U.S. aid to reach those countries.
"Screening and self-reporting at airports have been a demonstrated failure, yet the administration continues to advance a contradictory reason for this failed policy that frankly doesn’t make sense to me, especially if "priority one" is to contain the spread of Ebola and protect public health," said subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).
"This should not be presented as an all-or-none choice," he added. "We can and will create the means to transport whatever supplies, and goods are needed in Africa to win this deadly battle. We do not have to leave the door open to all travel to and from hot zones in Western Africa while Ebola is an unwelcome and dangerous stowaway on these flights."
Murphy said screening passengers has shown to be a failure, as the first patient was able to fly into the U.S. and infect two nurses. One of those nurses was also given permission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fly this week with a light fever, which has prompted fears that 132 other passengers may have been infected.
The chairman of the full committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), also said he wants a travel ban in place.
"We need a plan to treat those who are sick, to train health workers to safely provide care, and to stop the spread of this disease here at home and at its source in Africa," he said. "This includes travel restrictions, or bans, from that region beginning today."
Surely we can find other ways to get the aid workers and supplies in to these
countries, and from terrorist watch lists to quarantines, there are tools used to manage air travel to assure public safety," Upton added. "Why not here? We can no longer be reacting to each day’s crisis. We need to be aggressive and finally get ahead of this terrible outbreak."
On Wednesday, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked the Obama administration to consider stopping the processing of U.S. travel visas in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone until the outbreak is under control.