Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) plans to introduce a bill that he says would ban visa issuance to people from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa.
“While Ebola’s deadly reach has proven to be a complex and unique international challenge, the many uncertainties surrounding this virus continue to threaten U.S. national security,” Rubio said in a statement announcing the legislation. “Our biggest priority is ensuring that sufficient safeguards are in place to limit the spread of Ebola, contain it at the source, and protect Americans.”
Rubio added that “common sense restrictions on travel” from Ebola-stricken nations are a must at this time:
We must take any and all necessary precautions to contain this virus – and common sense restrictions on travel from countries now confronting this epidemic is an important step. The most effective way to combat this deadly virus is to address it at its source. This ban on issuance of visas does not mean we will be completely cutting off the affected countries from the outside world. We must continue to increase our assistance to those countries as they struggle to contain this outbreak. That is, ultimately, the only way we will be able to stop this outbreak and keep Americans safe from this horrible disease.
The effort comes as Rubio continues to rehabilitate his image on immigration after spending the first half of 2013 pushing the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill through the Senate. After Rubio saw a dive in the polls because of the effort to push amnesty, he worked to kill his own bill’s chances in the House by coming out against a conference committee strategy House GOP leadership was considering using to pass it through that chamber–and now he doesn’t support comprehensive immigration reform and only supports piecemeal immigration reform.
While the text of the bill isn’t publicly available yet, if it contains what Rubio says it contains–and doesn’t have any extra add-ons that are unpopular–the Ebola travel ban bill could help Rubio regain some support from the populist right that he lost in the 2013 amnesty debate.
Rubio’s office said the senator plans to introduce the bill when the Senate returns next month.
The bill also offers a major opportunity for Republicans challenging Democrats for U.S. Senate seats on the campaign trail this year in the final weeks before the crucial 2014 midterm elections on Nov. 4. In New Hampshire, former Sen. Scott Brown has called for a travel ban from Ebola-stricken nations–actually going as far as writing incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) a personal letter asking her to back such a ban too. Brown wrote to Shaheen this weekend:
I believe that one way to prevent and contain this disease is by enacting a travel ban to and from West African countries that are infected with this virus, and imposing an embargo on the issuance of visas to people in countries where the virus is prevalent,” Brown wrote to Shaheen this weekend. “This step goes beyond partisan politics, as there is a growing and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in Congress in favor of it. So far, more than 70 members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have come out in favor of a temporary travel ban. Travel bans have proved successful in stopping Ebola in West African countries that are much closer to the disease outbreak than we are here in the United States. A travel ban such as the one I’ve described would prevent more people coming here like Thomas Eric Duncan, who arrived from Liberia with Ebola and transmitted it to two nurses in Texas before dying.
Shaheen hasn’t responded at all–and hasn’t indicated one way or the other on whether she’d support a travel ban.
In North Carolina, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis has aggressively fought for a travel ban–and after initially opposing a ban on travel, incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) has flip-flopped into now supporting a travel ban.
“Keeping the American people safe must be our nation’s top priority, and the White House should immediately ban travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea to contain the spread of Ebola,” Tillis, North Carolina’s House Speaker, said in early October.
After initially dismissing any calls for a travel ban, saying last week at a news conference in Charlotte that such a ban “is not going to help solve this problem” and “that’s not going to contain the epidemic that we see happening in Africa” Hagan has reversed course and now supports a travel ban.
Hagan said late last week according to the Huffington Post:
I have said for weeks that travel restrictions should be one part of a broad strategy to prevent Ebola from spreading in the U.S. and fighting it in Africa. I am calling on the Administration to temporarily ban the travel of non-U.S. citizens from the affected countries in West Africa. Although stopping the spread of this virus overseas will require a large, coordinated effort with the international community, a temporary travel ban is a prudent step the President can take to protect the American people, and I believe he should do so immediately.
In a series of press releases over the past several days, Tillis’ campaign has ripped Hagan for flip-flopping on the issue–something Hagan denies having done.
Louisiana Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) doesn’t support a travel ban, her spokesperson told the Huffington Post, but wants Obama’s administration “to expand the current screenings from five to all 20 airports in the United States where tourists, international workers, and business leaders from West Africa arrive.”
Both Landrieu’s GOP opponents support a travel ban. The Tea Party-backed Col. Rob Maness said in an Oct. 16 press release that Gov. Bobby Jindal was “right” when he was one of the first to call for a travel ban. Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the current frontrunner GOP candidate there in a race that’s almost certain to head to a runoff, as Cassidy, Landrieu, and Maness are each not likely to get 50 percent on Nov. 4, said that Obama “was wrong when he said it was unlikely that Ebola would reach the U.S.– several Americans have been diagnosed with Ebola.”
“In addition to other preventative measures, we must stop commercial flights between the U.S. and countries affected by Ebola and ensure health care providers from the U.S. and elsewhere put protocols in place. I will continue to push the Obama Administration to have a comprehensive plan of action to protect Louisiana families,” Cassidy, who is also a doctor, said in a statement provided to Breitbart News.
Obama is continuing avoiding a travel ban, but he also resisted the appointment of a single point person to handle the Ebola response before eventually caving to congressional Republicans’ demands on that–even though the person he appointed, Ron Klain, has been roundly criticized as a partisan political hack by Republicans.
As Republicans keep hammering this point home, and vulnerable Democrats like Hagan and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) jump on board–especially now with a forthcoming legislative vehicle thanks to Rubio–the issue is almost certain to get talked about more on the campaign trail. Republicans are likely to hammer Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, too, for not calling the Senate back to debate and vote on Rubio’s bill–or other legislative solutions–while vulnerable Democrats campaign for their political future through Nov. 4.
Iowa State Sen. Joni Ernst, in an op-ed for Breitbart News, endorsed Rubio’s bill, saying that Congress and the Obama administration are “failing” the American people on Ebola. Ernst wrote:
The State Department should impose a temporary travel ban for civilians traveling in and out of countries that have high levels of infection, with an exception for health care and other aid workers who are bravely volunteering in West Africa. We should issue a ban on new visas for nationals of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and put a hold on the as many as 13,000 U.S. visas already issued in those countries that have not been used for travel. The Federal government must also continue to increase health screenings at our international airports and encourage our European partners to do the same, since travelers from effected countries transit through major European airports. We should also implement standard protocols at hospitals across the U.S. to quickly identify, isolate and treat potential Ebola patients.
Ernst added that Rubio’s legislation “would go a long way towards keeping Ebola out of the U.S. Congress also has important oversight and funding functions to play,” and that “Congress should immediately return to Washington” to pass it or a travel ban bill like it.”
UPDATE: Shaheen has flip-flopped and now supports a travel ban, according to NECN’s Alison King.
UPDATE II: Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin told Breitbart News on Monday evening he plans to support Rubio’s bill if elected.
“Thom supports Sen. Rubio’s bill, which would help institute a temporary travel ban on Ebola-inflicted nations until the outbreak is contained,” Keylin said in an email. “Washington needs to take all necessary precautions to keep the American people safe, something the Obama administration refuses to do. Sen. Kay Hagan has been leading from behind on this issue, flip-flopping on a travel ban and even praising President Obama and the CDC for their ‘great guidance’ despite mounting bipartisan criticism over their mishandling of Ebola.”