Senate slates Ebola hearing as calls for ban grow

Story highlights

  • A Senate panel plans a Nov. 6 hearing on the Ebola threat.
  • Democrats are increasingly calling for travel bans between West Africa and the U.S.
  • Endangered Sen. Kay Hagan was the latest to do so, reversing her previous position.
The Senate will hold a hearing on the increasingly political debate over the government's handling of the Ebola outbreak -- but not until after the midterm elections.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski will hold an Ebola hearing Nov. 6, two days after Election Day. That will mark the first hearing in the Democratic-led Senate since the first three U.S. cases of the deadly virus were diagnosed in Dallas, according to a committee release out Monday.
The GOP-controlled House held a hearing last week to grill Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials over the Ebola response.
The Ebola outbreak is quickly emerging as a top issue in the midterms, scrambling the political calculus in several races in the final stretch of campaigning. Senate Democrats from Republican-leaning states are under growing pressure to join GOP calls for a ban on travel between west Africa, which is the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, and the United States.
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan is the latest Democrat to back a travel ban, though she initially questioned the effectiveness of such a move and said it only made sense as one part of a broader strategy. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Georgia Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn are also supporting a travel ban.
Those defections are ratcheting up pressure on other Democrats -- both vulnerable incumbents and hopeful challengers -- to support a ban that top U.S. and world health officials have said would not be effective and could harm prevention efforts.
The Louisiana GOP issued a statement Friday attempting to goad Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu into supporting a travel ban after her opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy expressed his support.
It's Hagan's endorsement of the ban, though, that most clearly reflects the political pressure Democrats are feeling as a result of the threat of Ebola -- largely because it came just days after she'd expressed reservations about a similar call from her GOP opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.
"That's not going to solve this problem," Hagan said at a press conference early last week. "That's not going to contain the epidemic that we see happening in Africa."
But in a statement Friday Hagan said she had "said for weeks that travel restrictions should be" part of the plan to contain Ebola.
"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," Hagan said in the statement released Friday afternoon.
Hagan, Pryor and Nunn are all facing tough challenges from the right and their campaigns are crucial to Democrats' chances of holding on to the Senate.