President Barack Obama delayed acting on immigration and an attorney general nomination this fall to dodge the politics of the midterm campaign season. But there was one topic he could not push aside — Ebola.
The past week’s jarring Ebola developments have put a spotlight on the president’s management skills just as he was earning praise for acting militarily against Islamic terrorists.
In recent months, Obama caught criticism for going golfing immediately after speaking about the beheading of an American, and for attending a fundraiser after an airliner was shot down in Ukraine. This time, as the Ebola threat hit home in America, the president cleared his schedule, canceling travel and appearances to consult with Cabinet members and talk with world leaders about how to contain the epidemic.
By Friday, he had named a point man for the U.S. response.
The week began with the news that a nurse in Dallas had become the first known case of Ebola being transmitted within the United States. By week’s end, a second nurse had been diagnosed, and the hunt for possible exposures expanded from Texas to Ohio, from multiple domestic airline flights to a cruise ship denied a port-of-call in the Caribbean.
White House officials say Obama’s approach this time reflected the unfolding, real-time developments that needed ongoing decisions to help reassure an increasingly alarmed public.
The crisis seemed to narrow to a single point of debate: Should the U.S. impose a travel or visa ban on people from the three West African nations bearing the brunt of the epidemic.
Obama said he was not “philosophically opposed” to the idea, but that in practice it would be counterproductive, driving travelers underground and hindering screening of potential Ebola carriers.
The Liberian man who died in Dallas from Ebola after traveling to the U.S. had infected two nurses, one of whom flew to Ohio and back before being diagnosed with the disease. Officials could not explain how the nurses became exposed, and the list of potential contacts with the second nurse grew after officials discovered she may have had symptoms before traveling.
“The trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day with demonstrated failures of the current strategy,” said GOP Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, chairman of a House subcommittee that held a hearing on the government’s response.