POLITICS
10/20/2014 05:40 pm ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

Marsha Blackburn Wishes Bill Frist, Who Disapproves Of Travel Ban, Were Ebola Czar

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has taken to the airwaves in recent days with sharp criticism of Ron Klain, President Barack Obama's pick for Ebola czar, while making the case that former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist would have been a more suitable choice.

During several television appearances over the last two days, Blackburn argued that Klain is merely capable of political spin, whereas Frist, a physician, would bring a "more respectable" view to the table. But when asked how she would like the federal government to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Blackburn echoed GOP calls for a travel ban -- an approach Frist has opposed.

"What we need is someone who understands all the aspects of government and understands the delivery of health care in this affected region," Blackburn told MSNBC's José Díaz-Balart on Monday. "Having someone with a broader experience in health care and emergency response would be more appropriate, I think, than someone like Ron Klain, who is known for being a spinner. And the American people are just so frustrated, they want someone who is the adult in charge, who can say this is exactly what we're dealing with, this is the transmissibility of the disease."

Blackburn then lamented the fact that the Obama administration overlooked the likes of Frist or Russel Honoré, the lieutenant general who led the Department of Defense response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and went on to note that her main gripe with the administration's response to Ebola was the lack of a travel ban.

"We've been told time and again -- if you want to get your arms around this Ebola outbreak you have to isolate it, over there in West Africa and you have to deal with it there," she said. "We need to go about restricting these visas or doing a quarantine there or having some kind of travel ban so we can get our arms around it and coordinate the proper response."

Blackburn made similar comments in multiple interviews on Sunday, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer during one appearance that Frist "understands the medical and the governmental component," and calling him a "more appropriate type of appointee" on CBS's "Face the Nation."

But when Frist offered up his medical expertise on the subject, he denounced the idea of a travel ban and endorsed much of what the Obama administration is already doing.

A travel ban "would be ineffective from a public and personal health perspective and would be grossly counterproductive to ensuring a cooperative, inclusive and closely aligned effort to eradicate the virus," Frist told The Associated Press.

He added that "despite current fears," the virus is not easily spread and said "comprehensive and targeted airport screening, like that implemented by the CDC," was a more appropriate way of preventing the proliferation of Ebola in the U.S. and other countries.

Blackburn isn't the only Republican to argue that Frist would have made a better choice to manage the U.S. response to Ebola. Doug Heye, who served as chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told CNN Monday that "no Republican and probably no Democrat would have criticized a pick" like Frist. Two-time GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes also named Frist as one of three individuals he would have preferred for the role.

Frist's opposition to a travel ban is particularly notable given that Republicans' main criticism with the administration's response to Ebola has been that restrictions have not been imposed on flights to the U.S. from the three affected countries in West Africa. The GOP has spent recent weeks ramping up pressure on Democrats to support a travel ban ahead of midterm elections, a move that has proved successful in some high-profile races.

Republicans, who initially led the calls for an Ebola czar, were immediate in their rejection of Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, when the appointment was announced last week. Several GOP lawmakers argued that the selection of a longtime Democratic aide was purely political, and criticized the fact that Klain lacks a public health background.

The White House defended its decision by noting that the role did not necessitate a medical background, and that Klain was chosen for his management experience. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, backed up the administration's choice on Sunday.

"There are health officials -- there's myself, there's the CDC, there are others. You don't need to be a health care person," Fauci said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "You need to be somebody who is a good organizer, and his experience is extraordinary. He has been chief of staff to a couple of vice presidents, he has a lot of experience."

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