President Obama on Wednesday hailed U.S. health care workers fighting Ebola in West Africa as the embodiment of American exceptionalism—and took a shot at critics he described as thinking “we should hide from these problems.”
The president stressed that travel bans and quarantines would not stop Ebola from being a threat to the U.S. ”The truth is until we stop this outbreak in West Africa, we may continue to see individual cases in America in the weeks and months ahead. Because that’s the nature of today’s world—we can’t hermetically seal ourselves off,” Obama said.
Until the outbreak stops in West Africa, Ebola would continue to be a threat to the U.S. “whether or not you adopt a travel ban, whether or not you adopt a quarantine—that is the nature of diseases,” Obama said. “As long as Ebola exists in the world, no one can promise there won’t be any more cases in America or anyplace else. To prevent its spread and ultimately to keep Americans safe, we have to go to the source.”
Obama’s remarks followed a meeting with leaders from non-governmental organizations and health care workers who have been assisting the response on the ground in West Africa. It’s his second consecutive speech praising their efforts as a growing number of states have taken quarantine measures to confine returning medical workers from the Ebola-stricken nations.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, continued his criticism of the White House on Wednesday when asked about his state’s new quarantine protocols. He and a handful of other governors have instituted mandatory quarantine orders for health care workers who return from Ebola-stricken countries. A nurse working with Doctors Without Borders was quarantined in a tent outside a hospital in Newark, N.J. over the weekend, prompting sharp criticism for Christie, who has stood by his approach.
“I don’t know when the White House is going to get around to admitting that [it’s common-sense policy] and not giving us seven-minute lectures from the South Lawn, and just get to work,” Christie said Wednesday. “And that’s what people want—they want their leaders to do things and that’s why Republican governors and Democratic governors have taken the same step that I did, and we’re happy.”
Obama described the health care workers as “a shining example of what America means to the world, what is possible when America leads.” He continued: “I’m a firm believer of American exceptionalism. You know why I am? It’s because of folks like these. It’s because we don’t run when there’s a problem.”
The president also took a shot at critics of the White House’s response to Ebola. “When I hear people talk about American leadership then are promoting policies that would have us avoid leadership, that would have us running in the opposite direction, hiding under the covers—it makes me a little frustrated, ” he said.
He concluded the speech on a defiant note. “I put those on notice who think that we should hide from these problems. That’s not who we are, that’s not who I am, that’s not who these folks are,” he said. “This is America—we do things differently.”