Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was dismissive yesterday of an unfounded concern: Islamic State terrorists using the Ebola virus. In remarks to the Association of the United States Army, Johnson specifically said, "We've seen no specific credible intelligence that [ISIS] is attempting to use any sort of disease or virus to attack our homeland."
That's good to hear, of course, but the fact that it was necessary for the DHS secretary to make these comments was itself rather striking.
As a friend reminded me yesterday, we've heard quite a bit about possible threats from ISIS terrorists; and we've heard plenty about the dangers of Ebola; but we've apparently entered a new phase in which ISIS may strike with Ebola.
And where is such talk coming from? Greg Sargent reported yesterday on the latest remarks from former Sen. Scott Brown (R), now running in New Hampshire after losing two years ago in Massachusetts. In this case, the Republican was asked whether he supports travel restrictions on countries in West Africa. Brown replied:
"We need a comprehensive approach and I think that should be part of it. I think it's all connected. For example, we have people coming into our country by legal means bringing in diseases and other potential challenges. Yet we have a border that's so porous that anyone can walk across it. I think it's naive to think that people aren't going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist. And yet we do nothing to secure our border."
Brown has dabbled in this before, but I think this was the most direct he's been to date to tie together the disparate threads of terrorism, Ebola, and border security, all at the same time, all in the hopes of exploiting public anxiety to advance his personal ambitions. (North Carolina's Thom Tillis recently pushed a similar tack, though he didn't go for the full trifecta.)
The politics of fear isn't pretty, and as Brown makes clear, it's getting worse. The public can, however, take at least some comfort in the fact that the New England Republican doesn't seem to have any idea what he's talking about.
For example, Brown believes "that anyone can walk across" the border because "we do nothing to secure" it. For an issue the Republican claims to take seriously, he's badly confused -- border security is actually at an all-time high.
But the more amusing takeaway is the degree to which the right wants to connect every story to its unrelated goal. Want to improve the economy? Secure the border. Want to fight terrorism? Secure the border. Worried about public health? Secure the border. Worried about crime? Secure the border.
If you've got a problem, Republicans have a border that needs securing.
It's reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, when just about every possible challenge -- economy, energy policy, terrorism, health care -- was met with a call to cut taxes.
Of course, the difference is, when it comes to immigration, Democrats are fully prepared to give Republicans the exact border-security measures the GOP wants as part of a comprehensive reform package. It's a shame Republicans won't consider a compromise.