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Joining me right now is U.S. Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont, who sits on the committee that held today`s Ebola hearing, and Michael Steele, who`s the former chair of the RNC and an MSNBC political analyst.
Anyway, at today`s Ebola hearing, again and again, lawmakers said that their jittery constituents back home want to know about the feasibility of an all-out travel ban to control -- actually, contain the spread of Ebola.
Congressman Welch, who`s with us now, tried to get an answer. Let`s listen.
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REP. PETER WELCH (D), VERMONT: ... why from a medical standpoint you have concluded that a total travel ban is inappropriate and not effective?
DR. TOM FRIEDEN, CDC DIRECTOR: First off, many of the people coming to the U.S. from West Africa are American citizens, American passport holders. People travel, and people will be coming in.
WELCH: As I understand it, you say there`s basically a trade-off. If you have a full-out ban, there`s going to be ways around it, and then you`re going to lose the benefit of being able to track folks who may be infected, and then that could lead to a greater incidence of outbreak. So it`s a trade-off? Is that essentially what`s going on?
FRIEDEN: We`re open to any possibility that will increase the safety of Americans.
WELCH: Right. So are there some midpoints, like -- that -- in terms of travel restrictions, as opposed to a travel ban, that may make sense?
FRIEDEN: We would look at any proposal that would improve the safety of the Americans.
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MATTHEWS: Congressman Welch, you know, a witness -- when a witness freezes like that and gives the same answer a second time -- you heard something then. What did you hear that witness saying, Mr. Frieden -- Dr. Frieden? Is he saying, Two weeks from now, if this thing grows exponentially, for example, we will shut down the traffic from West Africa?
WELCH: Well, he was trying to thread a needle. He didn`t want to state explicitly that he opposed the possibility of a ban, but he was embracing the approach that whatever is ultimately required, in his judgment and the administration`s judgment, to protect the American people, they`re open to it.
But the committee hearing really did start coming down to travel ban or not, and that has, obviously, for a lot of politicians, enormous political appeal because it says, We`re, quote, "doing something." But the gold standard on this, who for me are the Doctors Without Borders, they actually say, medically speaking, that wouldn`t be good. It might do more harm than good. But now we`ve got 435 members of Congress who put on their white coats, and we`re all acting like we`re doctors.
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MATTHEWS: Tell me about the thinking of the committee, the Democratic
side, especially, about why you don`t want to rush to a ban right now and
just shut down the traffic.
WELCH: Well, the question is whether a ban would be effective. You know, the Doctors Without Borders basically say it would hurt. You would have a lot of issues about getting your own medical personnel in and out. You`d have problems getting some of the medical equipment back and forth.
And then when you have a ban, what it`s going to -- the experience has been that people will find a way around it. If they find a way around it, you have an infected person get here legally but without having any monitoring and any review of their health status situation, it means that we`re not going to be able to get them the treatment right away that they need. And this is the most important. We won`t be able to know who they had contact with, and that`s really essential for public safety.
STEELE: May I ask the congressman question, then? Has that been the experience of those African nations that surround Sierra Leone and the other infected areas? They don`t seem to have that problem, and yet they have a full-bore ban in human traffic across their borders, as do now several other countries.
So I don`t understand this U.S. position that suddenly, we`re so concerned about commerce and how people feel, when you`ve got this issue of a potential outbreak that the American people are concerned about.
WELCH: Well, two things, Michael. Number one, Dr. Frieden was asked that specifically and he said those countries didn`t have that blanket ban that you`re talking about.
Number two, my view on this is that I`m open to anything. But the bottom line is, what is the medical step that we should take, or what steps should we take with respect to travel restrictions that would be most effective? That`s really the question. It`s not a political judgment.
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MATTHEWS: Congressman, this is where we get to that old political problem of "mistakes were made" in the passive voice, but nobody made any mistakes. You and I have lived through this. Mistakes were made by what human being? And now we`re finding this guy you put in the box or in the barrel today, he`s the guy that`s getting hit with this.
Who`s the responsible officers that make sure that hospitals handle the first case properly? Who`s the officer that didn`t do it right?
WELCH: Well, ultimately, the head of the hospital. But obviously, they blew it at the ER room. I mean, this man when she showed up was incredibly sick, and he was sent home with antibiotics. And then he came back, of course, with full-blown Ebola. So they blew it there.
But you know, let`s have a little bit of context. We`ve had one person, one person from Liberia come to this entire country. That`s dangerous because people fear Ebola and it`s a really bad disease. But it`s been one person. We`ve had two health workers infected, and they`re in stable condition.
So you know, our hospitals haven`t had a whole lot of experience. And how many hospitals, even well-run hospitals, would have it on the radar that somebody is going to show up tomorrow with a disease from Africa? So some of this, to some extent, I think is going to happen no matter how well run an operation is.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But you know, if you look at the progression of this -- you know the phrase "rolling disclosure." It always gets politicians in trouble. I`ll tell you when I want to tell you, not when I know. And here we have the president, who I generally support, as everybody knows, saying it was unlikely it would ever get here.
And then we`re told when it got down there that there`d be nobody would catch it from anybody. It`s very hard to catch. Two people caught it. Then we`re told nobody would be allowed to travel. Then we found this woman`s bopping up and down across the country from Dallas to Cleveland and back again after she told the CDC she had the symptoms.
And it just -- the wall keeps falling. The walls keep falling. And how can we keep confidence if they do, Congressman?
WELCH: Well, that`s a good point. I mean, you just laid out the rolling train wreck that the handling of this has been, everywhere from the hospital and to some extent, the administration. And when you have that applied to this disease, it is just horrid, where it`s incredibly painful and incredibly infectious. Then it creates a lot of -- it stokes a lot of public fears and undercuts the confidence we need in institutions. But -- and we`re in a political season, and believe me, that`s part of this...
MATTHEWS: What are you hearing up in Vermont? Vermont`s a progressive state, especially the flatlanders that move up there because it is a progressive state. And how are they reacting to this? They`re very sophisticated people in Vermont. What are they saying about this?
WELCH: Well, they`re concerned about it. They`re concerned about it. There`s two things. Number one, there`s just this enormous concern about - - and all the publicity about Ebola and could it happen. Well, when you saw that it did happen in Texas, which then it could happen anywhere, including in Vermont.
And then secondly, people are concerned that we`re going to handle it well. And they want an answer. That`s stoked to some extent by all the public discussion and the politicians` debate. And the easiest thing to call for is, quote, "a ban," but that`s not necessarily what`s going to provide the greatest protection to the public. So there`s concern there, as there is any time there`s much publicity about something.
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MATTHEWS: Congressman, you`re a political guy and I`m watching politics all my life. My sense is the least effective thing to say today is "Keep calm" because people don`t want to hear that. They want to hear what the news is, what`s going on.
WELCH: Well, you`re right about that.
MATTHEWS: And that`s what they go by.
WELCH: That`s exactly right. They want very specific things. I mean, the one thing that Dr. Frieden said that made some sense is that if a hospital has an Ebola -- a patient with Ebola symptoms show up, number one, put that person in isolation. Number two, call CDC, walk through it with them. And number three, CDC will come. So that was in response to a question from Cory Gardner, What would I tell my hospital in the event somebody appeared with these types of symptoms?
So I think getting specific and concrete with the plan makes a lot of sense. I also agree with Michael. I think our military is particularly suited to these incredible logistical challenges, and you do have to stop it at its source. It`s not humanitarian, it`s really self-defense.
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