Political MoJo

Mitch McConnell Flips-Flops on an Ebola Flight Ban—Within 24 Hours

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 10:52 AM EDT
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Many Ebola experts think that banning travel to the US from West Africa, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has killed thousands of people, would do more harm than good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree. But Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can't seem to settle on a position. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he stumped both for a ban and for letting the experts decide—a flip-flop within 24 hours.*

In an interview with NBC News, McConnell was asked if he thought the US should ban flights from West Africa. "I'd leave that up to the CDC to determine what the techniques ought to be in trying to contain the disease," he said. He added, "I think we ought to listen to what the CDC thinks they need either in terms of financing or certainly they'll decide the procedures for travel and all the rest. I think we need to follow the advice of the experts who know how to fight scourges like this."

Here's video of the NBC interview:

But less than 24 hours later, McConnell abruptly changed course. Asked by a Kentucky TV station about containing Ebola, McConnell said the US needs to "do everything we can to try to contain the problem where it is." He went on, "I'm not an expert on this, but it strikes me that it would be a good idea to discontinue flights into the United States from that part of the world."

Here's that video:

There are currently no direct flights from the Ebola-affected countries to the US, the New York Times' Jonathan Weisman reported Friday.

Correction: The original version of this post stated that the NBC News and Kentucky interviews occurred on the same day.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 17, 2014

Fri Oct. 17, 2014 9:37 AM EDT

US Marines watch explosives detonate from afar in the Philippines during a training exercise. (US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph DiGirolam)

Rand Paul Thinks Ebola Is More Contagious Than AIDS

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 2:08 PM EDT

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) reportedly put on his scientist hat this morning, telling CNN's Ashley Killough that Ebola is more easily spread than AIDS–a statement that is an irresponsible, flat out lie.

Paul's posturing is just the latest in a series of Ebola-truthing tactics he and other members of the GOP have been fully employing as of late. Perhaps more seriously, Paul's theory calls into question the types of feverish, vomit-spewing cocktail soirees he suggests he frequents.

For a deeper look into the contagiousness of Ebola compared to other diseases, check out the charts below from David McCandless and NPR:

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 16, 2014

Thu Oct. 16, 2014 10:40 AM EDT

A US Marine participates in an advanced rope technique course in California. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Steve H. Lopez)

Court Strikes Down Arkansas Voter ID Law

| Thu Oct. 16, 2014 10:39 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state's restrictive voter ID law, ruling that it violated the state's constitution. The unanimous decision, which comes just days before early voting begins in the state, could impact a Senate race considered key to a Republican takeover of the Senate.

Arkansas' law, enacted in 2013 after the Republican-controlled legislature overrode the Democratic Gov. Mike Beebee's veto, would have required voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Studies have shown that photo ID laws disproportionately burden minority and poor voters, making them less likely to vote. The state Supreme Court ruled that the voter ID law imposes a voting eligibility requirement that "falls outside" those the state constitution enumerates—namely, that a voter must only be a US citizen, an Arkansas resident, at least 18 years of age, and registered to vote—and was therefore invalid.

The court's ruling could help swing in Democrats' favor the tight Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and his opponent, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton.

After the Supreme Court gutted a section of the Voting Rights Act last year, Republican state legislatures around the country enacted a slew of harsh voting laws. Since the 2010 election, new restrictions have been enacted in 21 states. Fourteen of those were passed for the first time this year.

Arkansas was one of seven states in which opponents of restrictive voting laws filed lawsuits ahead of the 2014 midterms. Last week, the US Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's voter ID law. A federal court last Thursday struck down a similar law in Texas—only to have its ruling reversed this week by an appeals court. The Supreme Court recently allowed North Carolina and Ohio to enforce their strict new voting laws.

Texas College Rejects Two Nigerian Applicants Because of Ebola Panic

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 5:43 PM EDT

At least two college applicants from Nigeria received rejection letters from a Texas community college because of Ebola panic. Let's note: Nigeria has had only 20 cases of the disease since July 20. The country has been so successful in containing the outbreak, the Centers for Disease and Prevention dispatched a team to learn its methods.

Ebola has, however, killed more than 4,400 people in neighboring Liberia. Perhaps Navarro College confused Nigeria with Liberia? African countries do look and sound so similar! The story:

Kamorudeen Abidogun, a medical engineer in Richmond, Texas, told CNBC that five family relatives in Nigeria were applying to Navarro College using Abidogun's mailing address. At least two of the applications were denied.

"With sincere regret, I must report that Navarro College is not able to offer you acceptance for the Spring 2015 term. Unfortunately, Navarro College is not accepting international students from countries with confirmed Ebola cases," the letter explained.

An official has since apologized for any "incorrect information" that may have been dispersed to applicants—their rejections were actually due to a restructuring of the college's diversity priorities:

"Our focus for 2014-15 is on China and Indonesia. Other countries will be identified and recruitment efforts put in place once we launch our new honors program fall 2015."

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Should the Military Treat Ebola Patients in Africa?

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 5:42 PM EDT
US Marines arrive in Monrovia to provide support to Liberians in the fight against Ebola.

At the request of the Liberian government, American troops have set up shop in the country to help deliver aid and build treatment centers. It's all part of an effort to slow the disease's spread and, hopefully, mitigate some of the outbreak's more pernicious side effects, such as hunger.

So far, US military doctors and nurses are not actually treating patients. But three members of Congress—Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) believe they should be.  

"Our capable military medical and technical personnel have unique skills, resources, and experience working in similar environments to West Africa," the three wrote in a letter to President Obama. "They responded to the Cholera outbreak after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and the aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia. We must stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and protect Americans from the spread of the virus."

Pentagon officials have said that US troops will be proving logistical support and that there are no current plans for them to provide direct care. "We are not anticipating that military personnel will be treating the people," General David Rodriguez, head of the military's Africa Command, said at an October 3 press briefing. "There's no intention right now that [service members] will be interacting with patients or in areas where they would necessarily come into contact with patients."

Still, Rodriguez left open the possibility of military doctors treating patients at a later date. "That will be a decision made in the future if that ever gets to that point," he said. "But the international community has said 'Not right now. That's not what we need.'"

Ebola would certainly present a risk for any military personnel treating patients. Of the more than 4,000 people who have been infected in Liberia so far, 207 have been health care workers, according to Liberia's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare

The Marines are already warning their personnel to take precautions, even though they're not currently working with patients. "You must be aware of the risks," the Corps' top doctor says in an instructional video. "Understand what to do if you come into contact with someone suspected of having Ebola, and what to do if you become ill."

Many conservatives were outraged that Obama sent troops to help fight Ebola. Chances are, a sick service member would give new life to that debate.

Jeb Bush: "What's the Paycheck Fairness Act?"

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 3:01 PM EDT

Jeb Bush, one of the GOP's top 2016 presidential prospects, campaigned Monday for Terri Lynn Land, the Republican running for Senate in Michigan. At an event in the Detroit suburbs, a staffer for Progress Michigan, a liberal advocacy group, asked Bush whether he thought Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act.* Bush appeared not to know what the proposal is.

The high-profile legislation, much touted by Democrats, aims to close the wage gap between men and women. It would beef up legal protections for workers who ask about the wages of co-workers or share information about their own earnings while directing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to gather information on wages from employers. In September, the bill died in the Senate after Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), filibustered it.

The bill has been part of a national debate about the GOP and women, and it has played a prominent role in this Senate campaign, in which Land is running against Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Land, who served as Michigan's secretary of state from 2003 to 2010, has been criticized by Democrats—including President Barack Obama—for saying she did not support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Yet Bush didn't seem to know anything about this bill when the Democratic tracker asked about it:

Progress Michigan: Do you think Secretary Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Jeb Bush: Excuse me?

Progress Michigan: Do you think Secretary Land should support the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Bush: What's the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Progress Michigan: The Paycheck Fairness Act is a piece of legislation that would ensure women receive the same pay as men...equal pay for equal work.

Bush: Equal pay for the same work, not for equal work—I think that's the problem with it. I think there's a definition issue.

Progress Michigan: So you don't think Secretary Land should support it?

Bush: I don't know. You'd have to ask her.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that the tracker who questioned Bush worked for American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic oppo research outfit.

Liberia Says It's Going to Need a Lot More Body Bags

| Wed Oct. 15, 2014 6:15 AM EDT

If you need any more evidence that the Liberian government is overwhelmed by the worsening Ebola outbreak (or you're still wondering why President Barack Obama committed American troops to help coordinate the relief effort), just look at the table below. The numbers, which come from Liberia's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, show the huge gap between the supplies the Liberian government has and the supplies it needs.

As we reported last month, Liberia's entire national budget for 2013-14 was $553 million, with just $11 million allotted for health care—about what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are believed to have spent on their house in Bel Air. The country allocated another $20 million in August specifically to fight the virus, but that still represents just a fraction of the resources needed.

The rest of the world has so far been unable to close the gap. In September, the United Nations asked member states for almost $1 billion to fight Ebola. On Friday, UN officials reported that they've only raised a quarter of that.

Watch Live: David Corn on the 2014 Elections

Tue Oct. 14, 2014 5:44 PM EDT

Event live stream starting on Tuesday, October, 14, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern 

As the midterm elections approach, issues like money in politics, voter suppression, and income inequality will shape the political landscape just as much as who wins control of the Senate. What difference will November 4 make? And what are the critical issues that will shape the concluding years of the Obama administration and beyond? Please join the Brennan Center and Mother Jones Tuesday, October 14, for a pre-election primer on the state of our democracy, featuring Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn, New York Post editorial writer Robert A. George, and Brennan Center president Michael Waldman in conversation with Alex Wagner, host of MSNBC's Now With Alex Wagner. For more MoJo coverage of the 2014 midterm elections, click here.