- The outbreak of the Ebola disease has become a wild card issue in the midterm elections
- Two candidates in high-profile Senate races sat on panel holding Ebola hearing Thursday
- Several House Democrats in competitive races have come out supporting travel restrictions
- Candidates who didn't attend the hearing used the timing to make campaign statements
The campaign trail for two candidates in top-tier Senate races took a detour Thursday to a Capitol Hill committee room for a high-profile hearing on Ebola.
The outbreak has become a wild card issue in the midterm elections, and both Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Colorado Republican Rep. Cory Gardner were eager to question top Obama administration officials about the federal response at a hearing that was carried live on most television networks.
Braley is running neck-and-neck for the open Senate seat against GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst, who repeatedly tries to tie him to President Barack Obama and his policies.
But Braley used his opening statement to criticize the federal efforts to date, saying, "the administration did not act fast enough in responding in Texas."
Braley also name-dropped an Iowa company that is working on an Ebola vaccine and pressed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for information on how quickly the government could help advance the company's research.
Like many other GOP Senate candidates, Gardner, who is competing against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, came out in favor of a travel ban for those flying to and from countries in Africa fighting the Ebola epidemic. He used his time at Thursday's hearing to question Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about his reluctance to put more limits on travel. Federal officials worry that a travel ban would make it harder to track people because they could take circuitous routes to get into the country.
"Their reasons today are basically the same thing as saying that all children with chicken pox stay in school so we know who they are. It simply makes no sense. We must make sure we are protecting the American people by making sure that travel from the affected area is restricted," Gardner said.
It was clear that members of both parties who traveled back to Washington during a week when Congress wasn't in session wanted to show voters back home they are responding to the crisis and holding federal officials accountable.
"It's become the top issue," the No. 3 House Republican leader, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, said about Ebola and the midterm elections, which are just 19 days away.
Rob Collins, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters Thursday that concern about Ebola is showing up in his party's internal polling and that GOP candidates are responding to the public's worries about the spread of the disease.
"It think the Republicans have been offering pretty concrete leadership on this issue, including calls for travel bans and such that you're starting to see the Democrats mirror," he said.
On Thursday, a pair of House Democrats -- Reps. John Barrow of Georgia and Nick Rahall of West Virginia, who are in competitive races -- also publicly called for the administration to enact travel restrictions. Barrow also recommended a 21-day voluntary quarantine for those traveling to the United States from countries affected by Ebola.
Louisiana GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy, a physician who is running against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, didn't return to Washington for the hearing, but he scheduled a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. He said that voters are approaching him as he travels around the state, and he slammed Obama's handling of the issue.
"It seems to be part of a broader narrative that that administration lacks leadership, and that the senator whom I'm running against frankly enables the administration and is part of their lack of leadership," Cassidy said.
Landrieu focused her response to the Ebola outbreak by calling on the federal government to increase airport screenings.
"I urge the administration to expand the current screenings from five to all 20 airports in the United States where tourists, international workers and business leaders from West Africa arrive," Landrieu said. "In addition, it is important to remember, in the face of constant calls for budget cuts, that the investments we make today in our health care system, NIH research and emergency response training at our hospitals can help prevent and quickly contain diseases like Ebola."