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Marco Rubio vs. scientists, Round III

The Florida Republican, among others, is pushing an anti-science approach to Ebola that could make matters much worse.
Image: Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during the fourth annual \"Faith and Freedom BBQ\" hosted by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan in Anderson, S.C., on Aug. 25, 2014.
A couple of years ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked how old he thinks the planet is. The senator replied, "I'm not a scientist, man." Earlier this year, the Florida Republican said he rejects the way "scientists are portraying" the climate crisis.
And this week, Rubio has found a new way to thumb his nose at scientists.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced on Monday he will introduce legislation banning travel to the U.S. for nationals of Ebola-stricken African countries once Congress returns the week after the Nov. 4 elections. The bill would immediately ban U.S. visas for nationals of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, to be lifted once the Centers for Disease Control certify that the outbreak has been contained. It would also subject other countries where the Ebola outbreak reaches "significant levels," Rubio's office said.

Once introduced, this will be the first Senate legislation mandating a West African travel ban, though a related bill has been announced for the House.
In a statement, the conservative senator said he was merely calling for "common sense restrictions on travel" -- though in this case, actual scientific experts are practically unanimous in their belief that travel restrictions would be counterproductive. Rubio is no doubt aware that scientists are urging policymakers to reject his preferred approach, but the Florida Republican apparently doesn't much care.
Did I mention that Rubio sits on the Senate committee responsible for overseeing science policy? He does.
Of course, Rubio isn't alone in this endeavor, and once he's able to introduce this legislation, it's likely to pick up quite a few co-sponsors.
What's more, while most of the most aggressive advocates are a travel ban are on the right, this has also become a go-to position for practically every Democratic Senate candidate in a tough race this year, including some who'd recently taken the opposite position. Greg Sargent yesterday helped explain why.

As far as I can gather there are two reasons Democrats are caving. The first: Democrats think the GOP strategy of layering Ebola on top of ISIS and the child migrant crisis is successfully spreading generalized public anxiety in a way that is having a palpable impact on the elections. [...] The second reason Dems in tough races are coming out for a travel ban is that it helps resolve a strategic dilemma some advisers say these candidates face: How to achieve the requisite distance from Obama without depressing efforts to get out core voters.

I think that's entirely correct, though I'd add just one more possible explanation: politicians can take some comfort in knowing that their rhetoric will have little practical consequence. Indeed, this applies equally to members in both parties: scientists may tell them that a travel ban is a pointless endeavor that might make matters worse, but these politicians have the luxury of irrelevance -- they realize that President Obama and actual experts won't pursue a travel ban, so lawmakers don't have to worry about making matters worse on purpose.
Rubio & Co. can, in other words, engage in all the grandstanding they want, aligning themselves with popular-but-ineffective ideas, with the confidence that they won't exacerbate a public-health crisis by implementing a misguided idea. They get the political benefit without hurting anyone.
Still, it'd be far more encouraging if members of Congress, and candidates striving to join Congress, spent less time pushing bad ideas and more time providing the public with credible information.

[T]he calls [for a travel ban] have alarmed public health experts, who said a travel ban could result in the opposite of its intention and spread the virus throughout West Africa and beyond. "It's an 18th-century view that you can somehow place a cellophane wrapper around a whole region of the world and expect to keep germs out. It doesn't work that way because it's never worked," said Lawrence O. Gostin, faculty director of the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights. [...] Gostin and others said that barring travel from the three countries will spur people who want to leave to slip across porous borders into another country from which they will travel. "Germs don't respect borders. They will cross borders, they will go by other means, it will give them greater incentive to get out, and it will get more people infected," he said. "It will impede medical supplies, food, humanitarian assistance. "It would exacerbate a health and humanitarian crisis," Gostin said. "We couldn't do anything worse."