CONCORD, New Hampshire — NBC’s new Meet The Press host Chuck Todd asked incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) why she flip-flopped and now supports an Ebola travel ban at the debate she had with former Sen. Scott Brown here on Tuesday evening.
“Sen. Shaheen, you changed your mind on this. Why?” Todd asked Shaheen about a travel ban from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa.
Shaheen didn’t challenge the notion that she flip-flopped, seemingly admitting she did.
“Well, Ebola is a very serious threat,” Shaheen began her answer. “People are concerned about it here, and it’s serious. I think we got to look at taking every action keeping people safe, including a travel ban if we can figure out that that actually improves the situation.”
On Oct. 15, according to NECN’s Alison King, Shaheen said that an Ebola travel ban “doesn’t make sense.” But she flip-flopped on Monday under pressure from Brown to do so.
Later on in the debate, Shaheen accused Brown of “fear-mongering” on Ebola.
“We need to work together,” she said. “What we don’t need is people who are fear-mongering, who are spreading panic in the public, because this is serious. We need to work together and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve been disappointed that my opponent has actually raised concerns without talking about what we can do better in a bipartisan way to address this issue.”
Brown responded by saying he’s not ginning up faux outrage.
“I’m not fear mongering,” Brown said. “I’m talking about something that is very relevant and important to people in New Hamsphire, in this country and the world. There has been no coherent policy from the president. I called for a travel ban immediately, didn’t do anything inappropriate. Others on a bipartisan effort have actually joined in and I’m thankful Sen. Shaheen has actually broken with the president to join with me.”
To kick off the debate, Todd asked Brown if he thinks the Obama administration’s new Ebola travel restrictions–not a complete ban, but a marked shift from the president’s previous outright opposition to restricting travel–were enough. Brown responded:
No it’s not. As we see what’s happening, a couple weeks ago the president said we’re not going to have any issues here and we’re going to stamp it out in its tracks. We’ve had one person actually die and two others infected. The problem is yes we need to have a travel ban, absolutely, and what does that mean? It means anybody leaving those countries cannot get into this country. They cannot get here. That being said, the president has given an incoherent policy. On the one hand he says it’s not going to come here, then it actually has. The direction from the CDC has been confusing as well. So, I did call for a travel ban, and I’m glad that the president and Sen. Shaheen are coming forward and moving forward in this regard. We need to make sure it doesn’t come here. The time is now. It’s not six months from now.
Earlier on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that, beginning Wednesday morning, anyone from Ebola-stricken nations flying into the U.S. would need to go through one of the five airports where DHS has set up additional screening measures: New York’s JFK, Chicago, Newark, Atlanta, or Washington Dulles.
“Passengers flying into one of these airports from flights originating in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are subject to secondary screening and added protocols, including having their temperature taken, before they can be admitted into the United States,” Johnson said. “These airports account for about 94 percent of travelers flying to the United States from these countries. At present there are no direct, non-stop commercial flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea to any airport in the United States.”
While not a complete travel ban, it’s the beginning of an admission by the Obama administration that the president was wrong when he opposed travel restrictions.
“Trying to seal off an entire region of the world – if that were even possible – could actually make the situation worse,” Obama said last week.