Appointing an Ebola 'czar' for the U.S. may be appropriate, Obama says
A man wears protective gear as he drives Nina Pham from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to a plane at Dallas Love Field on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. (AP / The Dallas Morning News / G.J. McCarthy)
WASHINGTON -- Under pressure to select an Ebola "czar" to lead the U.S. response against the disease, President Barack Obama conceded Thursday it "may be appropriate" to designate a single individual to head the administration effort.
Obama also said he is "not philosophically opposed" to a travel ban from the Ebola-afflicted region of West Africa "if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe." But he said such a measure could be counterproductive.
He said his team of Ebola advisers is doing "an outstanding job." But he said several of them, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Thomas Frieden and Lisa Monaco, his top counterterrorism adviser, are also confronting other priorities. He noted that Frieden is also dealing with flu season and Monaco and national security adviser Susan Rice, with the Islamic State extremists in the Middle East.
"It may make sense for us to have one person ... so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process just to make sure we are crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is," he said.
Calls for Obama to institute a temporary travel ban grew Thursday, mainly from Republicans who said the growing outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia is creating a greater travelling threat.
But Obama said a ban could increase the instance of travellers avoiding detection.
"They are less likely to get screened and we may have more cases of Ebola rather than less," he said.
Obama spoke at the end of a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, White House chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Frieden, Monaco, and Rice.
Obama on Thursday also authorized the Pentagon to call up reserve and National Guard troops if they are needed to assist in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Obama signed an executive order that allows the government to call up more forces and for longer periods of time than currently authorized. There is no actual call-up at this point.
The U.S. has committed to send up to 4,000 military personnel to West Africa to provide logistics and humanitarian assistance and help build treatment units to confront the rapidly spreading and deadly virus.
Separately, Obama placed phone calls to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to discuss the administration's response to the disease.
He also called Ohio Gov. John Kasich to discuss steps the administration took after a Dallas nurse travelled to the state over the weekend before being diagnosed with Ebola. The nurse was one of two health care workers who became ill after treating a Liberian man with Ebola at a Dallas hospital. Obama said he also spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to make sure Dallas and the state had the resources to respond if more health workers were exposed and contracted Ebola.
The White House said Obama also placed calls to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. The White House said Obama and the two leaders discussed the need for an urgent international response to the epidemic in Africa.
Obama cancelled a Thursday campaign trip to stay at the White House and focus on Ebola. It was the second day in a row he nixed a planned trip because of the outbreak.