President Obama this evening suggested for the first time he is open to appointing a single person to oversee the federal response to Ebola, bowing to numerous demands from Capitol Hill and elsewhere.
While saying the individuals in his administration are doing “an outstanding job” dealing with their responsibilities for the crisis, Obama said that the time had come to possibly have a single “czar” to establish “a more regular process” now that some ill-defined “initial surge of activity” had passed:
It may make sense for us to have one person, in part just so that after this initial surge of activity we can have a more regular process just to make sure that we’re crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward.
He gave no timetable for a possible appointment.
Obama also offered the slightest opening to a travel ban directed at Western Africa, saying that while the evidence suggests it would be counterproductive, he would continue to reevaluate his position:
I don’t have a philosophical objection necessarily to a travel ban if that is the thing that is going to keep the American people safe. The problem is, is that in all the discussions I’ve had thus far with experts in the field, experts in infectious disease, is that a travel ban is less effective than the measures that we are currently instituting that involve screening passengers who are coming from West Africa . . .
If we institute a travel ban instead of the protocols that we’ve put in place now, history shows that there is a likelihood of increased avoidance . . . And as a result, we may end up getting less information about who has the disease. They’re less likely to get treated properly, screened properly, quarantined properly. And as a consequence, we could end up having more cases rather than less.
Now, I continue to push and ask our experts whether, in fact, we are doing what’s adequate in order to protect the American people. If they come back to me and they say that there are some additional things that we need to do, I assure you we will do it. But it is important in these circumstances for us to look at the history of how these infectious diseases are best dealt with, and it is currently the judgment of all those who have been involved that a flat-out travel ban is not the best way to go.
The president spoke following a meeting with top advisors on the Ebola response.