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New Ebola Restrictions Not Enough for Republicans Pushing Travel Ban

Goodlatte and other lawmakers are calling for an Ebola travel ban. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Goodlatte and other lawmakers are calling for an Ebola travel ban. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

While the Obama administration continues to put in place additional measures to identify travelers potentially infected with Ebola, the early Republican response is in: It’s still not enough.  

The administration announced Tuesday that travelers to the United States from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have to travel through one of five major U.S. airports and go through additional Ebola screening.  

The Department of Homeland Security introduced the additional measures, mandating that all foreign nationals coming from those three Ebola-stricken countries in Africa will undergo secondary screening and be forced to land at one of five airports: Kennedy Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, Chicago O’Hare in Illinois or Dulles Airport in Virginia.  

Those passengers, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement, would be subject to “added protocols, including having their temperature taken, before they can be admitted into the United States.”  

The additional screening for passengers coming from those countries at those airports was already taking place, but now those passengers are mandated to land at one of those five airports. Ebola has emerged as a surprise campaign issue this October. Republicans have capitalized on public concern by dinging many of their Democratic opponents for muted responses and by calling for a travel ban. A recent poll found that 64 percent of Americans felt the government should do more to address Ebola, two-thirds said they supported a travel ban from those three African countries, and a whopping 91 percent said they supported stricter screening for passengers from those areas.  

It’s unclear what the public will make of the new rules, but congressional Republicans didn’t seem impressed Tuesday.  

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, who had written a letter earlier in the day to  Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry asking question about non-U.S. citizens with Ebola coming to the United States, offered soft applause for the screening mandate, saying he was “glad” the administration had taken these new steps. But he still said they needed to do more.  

“Obama Administration officials openly admit that these enhanced screening measures would have never detected the disease in Thomas Eric Duncan, a non-U.S. citizen, who later infected two American nurses in Dallas,” Goodlatte said in his release.  

“President Obama has a real solution at his disposal under current law and can use it at any time to temporarily ban foreign nationals from entering the United States from Ebola-ravaged countries,” the Virginia Republican wrote.  

Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also offered slight praise. “Putting in place travel restrictions and additional screening measures at our airports is a commonsense proposal, and I am pleased to see DHS make this announcement,” he wrote in his own release. But he still wants a travel ban.  

“I continue to call on the administration to suspend all visas from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea,” he said.  

Additionally, 16 Republican members of the Doctor’s Caucus sent a letter Tuesday afternoon to “strongly urge” President Barack Obama to implement the temporary travel ban. “To assuage rising public anxiety about a potential health crisis — and to ensure national preparedness if the worst should happen — we urge your administration to take proactive steps to educate, equip, and train public health authorities to effectively contain this disease,” the doctors wrote.  

While the additional screening measures could allay some public concerns — as well as potentially take some of the political heat off of Democrats and the president — Republicans don’t seem to be letting up.  

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.    

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