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What Prompted the White House Spokesman to Invoke James Madison and Federalism?

White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014, where he spoke about the shootings in Canada and answered questions about Ebola. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

White House spokesman Josh Earnest had only muffled criticism for New York and New Jersey’s Ebola quarantine policies after the two states backtracked following administration pressure.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Asked whether there would now be a patchwork of state policies on dealing with the deadly virus, Earnest brought up federalism.

“In some ways, you can take this up with James Madison. Right?” Earnest said. “We have a federal system in this country and states are given significant authority for governing their constituents. That is certainly true when it comes to public safety and public health. At the same time, I think you have seen a strong relationship between states across the country and the federal government. What we believe is important is that these kinds of policies should be driven by science.”

Earnest repeatedly declined to say whether President Barack Obama spoke with either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who announced the quarantines for their states last week after a doctor returned to New York carrying Ebola. He also would not say whether new White House Ebola czar Ron Klain talked to either of the governors.

The Obama administration pressed the two states to reverse the quarantine orders, arguing it could discourage medical personnel from providing aide to West Africa.

New York subsequently scaled back its quarantine mandate, while New Jersey released nurse Kaci Hickox, who was quarantined after returning from West Africa despite testing negative for Ebola. Hickox said she was forced to stay in a tent in a parking lot and her human rights were violated.

Earnest said he had not spoken with Obama about the case with the nurse, but expressed sympathy for her situation.

“She traveled to a West African country that was dealing with the outbreak of a contagious, deadly disease. She didn’t travel over there to get a big paycheck,” Earnest said. “Presumably, she’s not going to get inducted into the nurses hall of fame for it. She did it out of concern for her common man.”

He added, “So her service to this commitment and this cause is something that should be honored and respected. I don’t think we do that by making her live in a tent for two or three days.”

Asked, “if states want to put people in tents, they can do that?” Earnest responded, “That’s subject to the laws of these individual states. “

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