Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Week In Politics: Midterm Elections, Ebola

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And we're going to pick up from there with our Friday political commentators - E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post. Hey there, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And sitting in for David Brooks this week is Amy Holmes, anchor of the "Hot List" on theblaze.com. Hey there, Amy.

AMY HOLMES: Thanks for having me. Good afternoon.

CORNISH: So czar used to be a dirty word, right? I remember back in the first term, President Obama got a lot of criticism for having too many czars. Now he has Ron Klain. He's answering a call to appoint one to coordinate the Ebola response. And yet, Amy, we're not exactly hearing glowing reactions, right? I mean, people had been calling for this.

HOLMES: Right, my former boss, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, himself a heart and lung transplant surgeon and a medical missionary in Africa, from the beginning of the Ebola crisis...

CORNISH: He's going to love you for saying that.

HOLMES: Yes, of course. From the beginning of this, he has said we need a czar. We need one person in charge who has that responsibility and also, you know, can make these types of decisions. But even in your own description of Mr. Klain, you called him a Democratic operative, a campaign advisor, a trusted White House advisor. What is surprising to me is in this moment of public health crisis, instead of winning the public's trust by appointing a public servant, the White House appointed, apparently, a political operative.

CORNISH: Well, people will probably still argue that Ron Klain is a public servant. E.J., I assume you might be one of them.

DIONNE: Yes. Well, first of all, I'm a small R Republican, so I don't like monarchist terms like czar.

CORNISH: That's a very small R.

DIONNE: And the - indeed. And I, you know, if we wanted a perfect person to do this, we would have a Surgeon General right now. President Obama named Dr. Vivek Murthy more than a year ago to be Surgeon General. And he's blocked in the Senate because the NRA doesn't like the fact that he takes the radical view that gun violence is a public health issue, so I think we just need to discuss that. But I think the choice of Ron Klain is a great choice precisely because he is a tough guy who understands management. And yes, he understands the political and PR context. And a lot of this is about reassuring Americans that someone is in charge and has all the moving parts moving in coordination. So I think Klain is the right kind of person to do this. But I'm not at all surprised that this breaks down along partisan lines since everything these days seems to break down along partisan lines.

HOLMES: Right, but, E.J., the White House had the opportunity to appoint someone who wasn't - who couldn't easily be described as a Democratic operative as NPR's own report just did. And strangely, instead, they appoint someone who is immediately controversial.

CORNISH: Well, I want to say that this is an issue that I thought wouldn't be politicized, and that was stupid because it's Washington and of course it has been. This week there was this ad that - serviced by the Agenda Project Action Fund. It's a liberal-leaning outside group. And this ad's got a lot of people's attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Washington actually can cut spending.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: The CDC says its discretionary funding has been cut by $585 million since 2010.

BENISHEK: Cut.

UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN: Less government.

CASSIDY: Cut.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Proceed with caution.

PAUL: Cut.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Cut.

UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN #3: Cut.

CORNISH: So heading into the election cycle trying to make the claim that lawmakers - specifically Republican lawmakers - were making cuts to government that makes a response difficult now. Now, E.J., even your paper criticized this ad as mostly false. What do you make of attempts to bring the Ebola issue into the election cycle?

DIONNE: Well, I think we just saw in our earlier conversation that this whole thing is getting politicized. The notion that the president picks his own person to head the effort suddenly becomes a terrible thing. Similarly, you're seeing this politicized on both sides. And by the way, I would love this to be nonpolitical on both sides. You know, in a debate in North Carolina, Juana Summers reported this for NPR, Thom Tillis said ladies and gentlemen, we have an Ebola outbreak. We need to seal the border and secure it. So you have Republicans trying to turn this into a border issue. And so now Democrats are turning it into a spending issue. As I say, in an ideal world, we just deal with the problem.

CORNISH: And Amy Holmes, on the flip side last night, Texas Republican rep Louie Gohmert accusing the CDC of being the new commander of the Democrats war on women nurses. That really felt like a stretch.

HOLMES: It sounds like a stretch to me. I didn't hear the actual remark. But again, I agree with E.J. I don't think that a public health crisis should be political. Unfortunately, we have not been getting - I think, from my perspective - we haven't been getting full information from our government officials - from our government agencies, letting us know and understand what Ebola is about. First we were told it wouldn't come to our shores, then it did. Then we were told it wasn't infectious, it wouldn't spread beyond, you know, Mr. Thomas Duncan and it did. Two nurses now are in quarantine with the Ebola virus. So now the White House has appointed Ron Klain to be the Ebola czar, something that nonpolitical people, Americans, have been asking for for the past number of weeks. It's happening, but it turns out he doesn't have a public health background. I think it's interesting that Kay Hagan, the Senator from North Carolina, just today flipped her position on a travel ban and a travel restriction from West Africa. On Wednesday, she said it was not necessary. Today, her campaign put out that she actually supports a travel ban.

CORNISH: I want to actually turn to some of the Senate races. This week, obviously, midterm elections; there were several high-profile debates. And we're going to play a clip from Kentucky. But I actually want to move to the Florida gubernatorial race for a second, where there was this really odd moment at the start of the debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. Let's see if we have it up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL DEBATE)

ELLIOTT RODRIGUEZ: Somehow there is a fan there. And for that reason, ladies and gentlemen, I am being told that Governor Scott will not join us for this debate.

CORNISH: So the set up for this is that - people have probably heard on late-night television all week - is that Charlie Crist always has a fan at the base of the podium, right? It gets hot, it's Florida. And there was this delay in the debate. And actually, the fan became an issue; it became fangate. E.J., should we be embarrassed for Scott, Crist or the voters of Florida?

DIONNE: Maybe all of us. I never thought, in all these years I've been doing politics, I'd be sitting here discussing a fan. Maybe the fan will get write-in votes. I mean, I think on balance if you look at it, it's - Charlie Crist has always had this fan. I think it was a mistake for Governor Scott to make this a big issue. I don't know if it will decide the election or not, but it was good to have at least one moment of hilarity in what is a pretty bitter campaign.

CORNISH: Amy, there were lots of weird moments in debates this week. This seemed to take the cake.

HOLMES: It did. And thank goodness I'm not a Florida voter. I don't know how to make heads or tails of this. It sounds like the moderator was trying to in some way embarrass one of the candidates. Mr. Brown's campaign has come out and said the fan had nothing to do with it.

CORNISH: Mr. Scott's campaign, you mean?

HOLMES: Sorry, yes. And this seems so silly. Obviously, the voters of Florida, I hope, are voting on more than a fan.

CORNISH: Now, we have a few seconds left, but since next week I'm sure you'll be talking about this as well, both of you in a word or two - the state to watch as we go into the elections.

DIONNE: I am watching - I just was up in Pennsylvania this week. It's a case where Democrat Tom Wolfe is going to win by a substantial margin. He's one of the most interesting candidates out there - a business guy who shares his profits 20, 30 percent with his employees, Ph.D in political science. He's a fascinating guy.

CORNISH: Amy, last word to you - state to watch?

HOLMES: Fascinating, New Hampshire, Scott Brown, formally the senator from Massachusetts. He's now running in New Hampshire - the granite state - and he's apparently narrowing his lead. Also, Joni Ernst in Iowa; will she be a female Senator from that Midwestern state? We'll find out.

CORNISH: Amy Holmes, anchor of the "Hot List" on theblaze.com. Thanks so much.

HOLMES: Thank you.

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and Washington Post. E.J., thank you.

DIONNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.