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Marco Rubio's plan to stop travel from Ebola stricken countries

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon May 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong, Getty Images

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, became the latest Republican lawmaker to announce that he plans to introduce a measure that would temporarily ban new visas for people from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the countries hardest hit by the Ebola virus.

The bill - which Rubio plans to introduce when the Senate returns after the Nov. 4 midterm elections - would go into effect immediately and continue until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) certifies that the outbreak has been contained. It could also be expanded to any countries that experience a significant outbreak of the virus.

Rubio, in a statement, called for "common sense restrictions on travel from countries now confronting this epidemic." He acknowledged the need to control Ebola at its source, however, and continued, "This ban on issuance of visas does not mean we will be completely cutting off the affected countries from the outside world."

His announcement came just a day before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would be requiring all travelers from Libera, Guinea and Sierra Leone to come to the U.S. through one of five airports that are doing extra screening for the virus.

The idea of a travel ban is gaining momentum among House and Senate Republicans, although some are calling on President Obama to implement restrictions rather than using legislation to do so.

Texas Republican Reps. Sam Johnson and Kenny Marchant are proposing legislation banning all new visas to citizens of the Ebola-affected countries. It would also stop anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident from traveling to the U.S. if their trip originates in or is routed through any of the three countries.

Similarly, Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida is calling for a restriction on all commercial flights traveling to and from Ebola-stricken countries and a ban on new visas for travel to the U.S. from those countries until the virus is contained.

Although an estimated 150 people travel to the U.S. from West Africa each day, there are no direct, non-stop commercial flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to any airport in the United States.

Taking another approach, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Virginia said he would introduce a resolution calling on Mr. Obama to enact a temporary ban on any foreign nationals who were recently in an Ebola-affected country from traveling to the U.S.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has also said any non-U.S. travelers from the affected countries should be banned from entering the U.S.

There are also a handful of Democrats - mostly those facing tough re-election campaigns - who back a travel ban. Last Friday, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina, issued a statement saying she had said "for weeks" that travel restrictions should be part of a strategy to prevent Ebola, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, told the Washington Post through a spokesman that she would support travel bans "if they would work."

Even Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who seems almost certain to win re-election, said the administration should immediately suspend commercial flights from West Africa and visas for citizens from the countries most affected by Ebola.

Health officials oppose travel bans, saying they would result in travelers evading screening and lying about their travel history.

"Right now we know who's coming in. If we try to eliminate travel...we won't be able to check them for fever when they leave, we won't be able to check them for fever when they arrive, we won't be able, as we do currently, to take a detailed history to see if they were exposed when they arrive," said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week. "When they arrive we wouldn't be able to impose quarantine, as we now can if they have high risk contact," he said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.