‘No-drama Obama’ under pressure ahead of midterms

US president Barack Obama: called a meeting this week over growing Ebola crisis. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

US president Barack Obama: called a meeting this week over growing Ebola crisis. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images


Barack Obama has drawn criticism this past year for not changing his travel or holiday plans when crises struck. Neither the rise of Islamic State militants nor the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children at the country’s southern border prompted a change to the president’s itinerary.

“Abrupt changes to his schedule can have the unintended consequence of unduly alarming the American people or creating a false sense of crisis,” an Obama aide told a White House correspondent in regard to the president’s failure to return to Washington immediately after the Malaysian Airlines atrocity in July.

So when Obama this week abruptly cancelled two days of campaign events for Democrats running in next month’s midterm elections and called an emergency cabinet meeting over the growing Ebola crisis, he sounded piercing alarm bells.

Obama was already under pressure from critics – who say the US government’s response to two Ebola cases in Texas were hamfisted and inadequate – when it emerged that a second nurse was diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday. Amber Vinson (29) had travelled on an internal US flight on Monday night, just hours before showing symptoms.

More alarming was the revelation that Vinson, the third case of Ebola in the US, was allowed to travel from Cleveland to Dallas on a commercial flight with 132 others, despite telling the agency overseeing the Ebola crisis that she had a fever.

The president, known for his “no-drama Obama” style, sought to project an image of a leader in charge when cameras captured him flanked by his cabinet at Wednesday’s crisis meeting.

“I want people to understand that the danger of you contracting Ebola, the dangers of a serious outbreak in this country, are extraordinarily low,” he said. “But we are taking this very seriously at the highest levels of government.”

He said he “hugged and kissed” doctors and nurses at Emory Hospital, in Atlanta, where two US Ebola patients repatriated from overseas were treated. “And I felt perfectly safe in doing so,” he said.

His reassurances may not be enough if the US administration cannot stem the virus, prevent further cases and tighten controls.

Firing line

Thomas FriedenNina PhamThomas Eric Duncan

The White House reiterated Obama’s support for the CDC after the latest breach allowing Amber Vinson, one of 50 hospital staff being monitored after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, to board a flight. Frieden said she should not have travelled and should have been subjected to “controlled movement” after “extensive contact” with Duncan. “Pointing fingers of blame will not be constructive here,” said Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest in defence of the CDC.

But political pressure is building. Ebola has become a lightning rod for Republicans in the run-up to the November 4th midterms. The party is using the crisis to question Obama’s competence, even tying the issue to security at the border with Mexico, a GOP bête noire.

Democrats, polling at their lowest level since 1984, are a fortnight away from the growing likelihood of losing the Senate to Republicans, all of which is turning up the heat on Obama, whose popularity is at a record low.