If you're governor of Texas, it's probably best to stay close to home during hurricane season and when Ebola is spreading in your state. This week, Rick Perry is in Europe.
The governor's absence comes as a second Ebola case has been diagnosed in Dallas, triggering a leadership test and opportunity to look presidential — or ineffectual — on the national stage as he contemplates a second White House bid.
Perry, in a stroke of bad timing, is on a previously scheduled economic development trip to England, Germany, Poland and Ukraine. He's scheduled to give a speech in London on Tuesday at the Royal United Services Institute. In addition to holding business meetings in each country, he also plans to explore opportunities to expand the export of liquefied natural gas from Texas to Poland and Ukraine.
Democrats in Texas, never shy about critiquing the Republican governor, are pummeling Perry for not being in the state right now. “Governor Perry’s failure to be in Texas shows something that we know all too clearly: he puts his personal priorities above Texas,” said Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer. “Whether it's avoiding questions about his indictment, using taxpayer dollars to run for president or jet-setting around Europe with Ebola impacting a Texas health care worker, Rick Perry is an irresponsible leader.”
In a statement, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said the governor spoke Tuesday with officials in the U.K. about Ebola.
“State, local and federal officials continue to manage the response to Dallas’ Ebola cases, and the infectious disease task force that Gov. Perry created to review the state’s preparedness and response efforts will conduct it first public hearing this month,” she said. “Earlier today, Governor Perry and Chancellor George Osborne discussed the global repercussions of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and the governor offered to share what we’ve learned in Texas with the United Kingdom, which is also preparing for the possibility of an Ebola case.”
In the run-up to a would-be presidential bid, Perry has looked for opportunities to showcase his leadership in Texas on the national stage. In July, he said he would send as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the border with Mexico, as he criticized President Barack Obama for the flow of children along the southern border from Central America.
Perry's been trying to rehabilitate his national image ever since a November 2011 debate in suburban Detroit, when he couldn’t remember the name of the third government agency he'd pledged to eliminate as president. He named two, the Commerce and Education departments, and then acknowledged he couldn’t remember the third. “I can’t. Sorry. Oops,” he said. He came in fifth in the Iowa Republican caucuses, sixth in the New Hampshire primary, and was soon packing for home.
In the Ebola case, he's cautioned against overreacting to the potential spread of the deadly disease. Last week, he opposed travel bans between the U.S. and African countries suffering outbreaks, saying that a screening process for travelers “makes better sense.” He's also created a task force in Texas to study the state's response to infectious disease.
That contrasts with Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who, like Perry, is considering a 2016 presidential campaign. Paul has said political correctness is trumping science on decisions about Ebola. “It's a big mistake to underestimate the potential for problems worldwide,” Paul said on The Laura Ingraham Show earlier this month. For now, Paul has focused his attacks on Obama and the federal government.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned about a widespread epidemic of the Ebola virus in the United States, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll taken Oct. 9-12. The poll shows that 64 percent believe the government should do more to prevent it.
But Perry has potentially opened himself up to criticism because of his early management and assessments of the situation. “I want to make it really clear that this isn't an outbreak. This is one case,” Perry said on Fox News on Oct. 1, as he praised the Centers for Disease Control for being a “very willing participant and partner in this.”
As the nation was learning about the first case of Ebola in the U.S., Perry said, “rest assured, our system is working as it should.”
Within hours, that nation began learning that the system wasn't working as it should — and still may not be doing so. The same day Perry praised his state's health care workers, Dallas hospital officials acknowledged they'd initially sent the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, home with antibiotics, even though he'd recently been in Liberia and had told the nurse about his travels. That critical communication failure that allowed dozens of people to be exposed to the virus has been blamed on a variety of things, including a computer glitch. Duncan returned to the hospital days later, and died Oct. 8.
And this weekend, the public found out that a woman who had treated Duncan at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has been diagnosed with Ebola, even though she was wearing CDC-approved safety gear, including gloves and masks, during her exposure to him. “We don't know what occurred in the care of the index patient, the original patient, in Dallas, but at some point there was a breach in protocol, and that breach in protocol resulted in this infection,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden told a news conference.
Perhaps more troubling, the infected worker was not among the 48 people who have been monitored by state health officials because of their close contact with Duncan. “We are evaluating other potential healthcare worker exposures because if this individual was exposed, which they were, it is possible that other individuals were exposed,” Frieden said.
Now, Obama is ordering the CDC to conduct a review to find out how so many things went wrong at the Dallas hospital.