CONCORD, New Hampshire — Incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) flip-flopped on an Ebola travel ban for a third time during Thursday evening’s debate with her GOP opponent, former Sen. Scott Brown.
When Brown yet again noted he has been pushing for a travel ban since Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan lied to immigration authorities to get into the United States, infecting two American nurses with Ebola, Shaheen said he’s not an expert and neither is she.
“You and I aren’t infectious disease experts,” Shaheen said. “What we’ve heard from the experts is there is concern that a travel ban would make this worse. I’m in the camp of let’s do what will work, and let’s do what we’re hearing from the medical experts and emergency response experts.”
Debate co-moderator Wolf Blitzer, seemingly a bit stunned, since Shaheen had just flip-flopped into supporting a travel ban earlier this week, interjected: “So you don’t support a travel ban. Is that what you’re saying?”
“What I’ve said is that a travel ban, if the experts tell us that’s what we need to do and that’s workable, I think that’s what we should support,” Shaheen responded. “But I’m not willing to tell the experts that this is what we have to do.”
Shaheen was against a travel ban last week. According to NECN reporter Alison King, Shaheen said on Oct. 15 that a travel ban “doesn’t make sense.” Then earlier this week on Oct. 20, according to King, she announced her support for a travel ban. Now, Shaheen is saying she will only support a travel ban if the “experts”–like the White House’s new Ebola czar Ron Klain and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other Obama administration officials-say so.
“I’ve called for a travel ban,” Brown responded on stage to Shaheen’s third flip-flop on the issue. “Bipartisan members of congressional delegations in Congress have called for a travel ban. The thing that’s bothersome is that Sen. Shaheen waits to get to okay from the president to do any significant thing.”
In the spin room with reporters after the debate–which Shaheen and her campaign refused to attend, instead of immediately leaving the building–Brown’s campaign manager noted her ever flipping and flopping position on an Ebola travel ban.
“In terms of the stance on Ebola, Jeanne Shaheen said she was not for it, then she was for it, and tonight she said she’s not for an Ebola travel ban,” Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, told reporters. “He said tonight he’s not an expert, but it’s just common sense. There are countries in West Africa that are putting travel bans from their countries and it seems to be working.”
The debate took place from 7 p.m. ET until 8 p.m. ET, meaning the debate wrapped about an before Dr. Craig Spencer of Doctors Without Borders tested positive for Ebola in New York City. News had just broken that Spencer was hospitalized and was being tested after coming down with symptoms of the disease. Instead of quarantining him when he returned from a medical mission to West Africa, Spencer was allowed out in public–and actually went bowling and rode in an Uber on Wednesday night.
Brown said that Spencer should have been quarantined. Brown said to kick off the debate:
With regard to Ebola, it’s real. It’s a rational fear in dealing with this very deadly disease and absolutely that doctor should have been quarantined. He should have been. That being said, we have a situation right now where the CDC and the president hired a czar who has no experience in this field. It’s an area where we disagree. We need to have a clear and concise policy. We want the president to succeed but it’s confusing. We need to be reassured right now because there is a rational fear, as I speak to the citizens of New Hamsphire, there is a rational fear this will come into our country.
When Blitzer turned to Shaheen, he asked her if there was “anything” that President Obama could be doing “better to protect Americans from Ebola.” She couldn’t name a single thing. But she did say she supports efforts by people who travel to and from West Africa to “self-quarantine” if they think they’ve been exposed to Ebola:
I understand how people are concerned and afraid because this is a new disease and we haven’t seen before. We need to do everything possible to make sure that our people are safe. It sort of reminds of the post-Sept. 11 period when I was governor and we were dealing with the threat of anthrax and bio-terrorism. I brought together medical experts and emergency response folks to make recommendations on how to put plans in place. That’s what we need to do now. My opponent and I aren’t infectious disease experts so we need to make sure we rely on the experts and we need to make sure we take every measure we can to keep people safe. I think screening at the airports are an important step. I think the effort to self-quarantine is very important and we need to follow up with folks and make sure that’s working. I do think we need to make sure to take every effort to make sure our people are safe. We should do that working together. We should not be fear mongering about it.
After that answer, Blitzer asked her if she agrees with Brown’s belief that the doctor should have been quarantined. She demurred:
Well I think we got screenings for folks now and we need to see how those screenings are going to work. You know, one of the challenges is people are not getting a lot of accurate information–and we need to make sure that people understand what this disease is and what to look for and that they understand what the emergency response is here in New Hampshire with public health officials. We need to talk to them about the plans that are in place in New Hampshire. I think we are responding positively and we need to make sure at the federal level that not only are we doing those screenings but we are also providing the support that local communities and states need as they are the first responders in this.
Shaheen said that while “mistakes” were made, the Obama administration has learned from them–and that people should stop “fear mongering” over Ebola.
“The CDC and that Dallas hospital did make mistakes,” Shaheen said. “The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes and that we put measures in place to address that. That’s what we’re seeing now in these protocols across the country. What we don’t need is people fear mongering about this issue, people who don’t have medical expertise trying to get people concerned about what we’ve got to do to respond.”
Blitzer, incredulous at Shaheen’s answer, as he began the debate with the Ebola questions, asked her: “Senator Shaheen, who is fear mongering?” Incidentally, the previous debate hosted by NBC Meet The Press host Chuck Todd also started with Ebola. Shaheen responded:
I think that is what my opponent has been doing, while talking about people coming across the border who have Ebola who are going to infect people in this country. You know, we had some good news on Ebola this week. We heard that the Americans who had been ill who have been treated for this–one nurse is out of the hospital and the other one is doing much better. The cameraman is out of the hospital. So we have been successful in treating the Americans who have been infected and we need to make sure we continue to follow those kinds of procedures to address the challenges.
Blitzer then turned to Brown to offer him a chance to respond, at which point he said he was not “fear mongering” but expressing the “rational fear” that voters across New Hampshire have said they have.
“She calls it fear mongering, I call it rational fear,” Brown said. “The citizens of New Hampshire and this country have a rational fear that this is real. Don’t take my word for it. General [John F.] Kelly, who’s in charge of the border with Mexico, has indicated that the clearest pathway to bring anything–whether it’s criminals, terrorists or diseases–is through that southern border. So it’s not me talking. It’s General Kelly.”