With Ebola dominating the news just weeks before the mid-term election, every member of Congress is feeling pressure to get to the bottom of federal missteps in responding to the health crisis — including the two House members looking to move up to Senate.
Both lawmakers, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Bruce Braley of Iowa, took time off from the stump to participate Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee's hearing on Ebola.
The hearings, broadcast nationwide on C-SPAN and covered wall-to-wall online and on virtually every broadcast news outlet, offered each would-be senator — both members of the subcommittee — a chance to raise their respective profiles.
For Gardner, a Republican looking to unseat Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, that meant coming down hard on the witnesses and bolstering his case for a travel ban — a key difference that has emerged between him and Udall.
For Braley, a Democrat who is running for an open Senate seat in Iowa, that meant clearly stating that his No. 1 priority is defending Americans from the disease and publicly advocating for an Ebola-related drug produced in his home state. Democrats even tried to help Braley get extra camera time. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Diana DeGette of Colorado, yielded some of her opening statement time to Braley, allowing him to offer an expedited opening speech — a speech he otherwise would not have been able to offer. (The subcommittee only gave opening statement time to Chairman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania; DeGette; the ranking Democrat of the full committee Henry A. Waxman of California; full committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan and subcommittee Vice Chairman Michael C. Burgess of Texas.)
Braley took that time to make a hardline statement that could have crossover appeal for Iowa Republicans. "Our No. 1 priority in combating this disease must be the protection of Americans — and we have to figure out the best way to do that," he said.
"Congress must come together, put aside partisan differences, and help stop this outbreak," Braley continued, offering up more quotes meant to transcend party lines.
Braley also made a pitch for a possible Ebola vaccine that is being produced by NewLink Genetics in Ames, Iowa. Casually mentioning that he discussed this issue a day earlier — "I had an opportunity to talk to two of their employees yesterday" — he asked what the Department of Health and Human Services was doing to make sure contracts with the Iowa company were moving forward as quickly as possible.
That sort of pro-Iowa-business focus is exactly the contrast Braley is trying to draw between himself and his opposition, Republican Joni Ernst.
But the key Ebola contrast between Ernst and Braley will likely be their positions on a travel ban. Ernst recently called for the ban, and Braley and Ernst are scheduled to debate later Thursday night.
Braley hasn't called for a travel prohibition himself, at least not yet, but whichever way he comes down on it later Thursday night, he will lend his case legitimacy by being able to note that, earlier today, he asked top health officials about their thoughts on the ban.
A travel prohibition has also become an issue in the Colorado Senate race, where Gardner was quick to call for a halt to individuals coming from infected West African countries to the United States, and where Udall recently said during a debate , "we ought to listen to the doctors and health-care professionals."
Gardner used his time in the hearing buttressing the case for a travel ban. He noted there were 100-150 people coming to the United States daily from infected areas — though not through direct flights — and he noted that one of the witnesses had said 94 percent of those coming from exposed areas are screened for Ebola symptoms. Gardner said that would mean 2,00o to 3,000 unscreened arrivals in the U.S. annually from high-risk Ebola areas.
You can reasonably expect Gardner to raise that issue when he gets back to Colorado.
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