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Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe
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WASHINGTON Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obamahas repeatedly offered during
the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key
elements of the response.
Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after
canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out
to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients
belonged in which threat categories.
Its not tight, a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the
meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach,
particularly from theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention. He was not satisfied with the
response, a senior official said.
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The difference between the public and private messages illustrates the dilemma Mr. Obama faces on
Ebola and a range of other national security issues as he tries to galvanize the response to a public
health scare while not adding to the sense of panic fueled by 24-hour cable TV and the nonstop Twitter

People briefed on a cabinet meeting said Mr. Obama was angry at the Ebola response.CreditJabin
Botsford/The New York Times
On Friday, Mr. Obama took a step to both fix that response and reassure the public, naming Ron Klain, a
former aide to Vice President Joseph R. Biden, to coordinate the governments efforts on Ebola.
The appointment followed the presidents statement Thursday that the job was necessary just to make
sure that we are crossing all the ts and dotting all the is going forward.
Part of the challenge is to be assertive, to be in command, and yet not feed a kind of panic that could
easily evolve here, said David Axelrod, a close adviser to the president in his first term. Its not enough
to doggedly and persistently push for answers in meetings. You have to be seen doggedly and
persistently pushing for answers.
For two turbulent weeks, White House officials have sought to balance those imperatives: insisting the
dangers to the American public were being overstated in the news media, while also moving quickly to
increase the presidents demonstration of action.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and its arrival in the United States, is the latest in a cascade of crises
that have stretched Mr. Obamas national security staff thin. As the White House scrambled to stop the
spread of Ebola beyond a handful of cases, officials were also grappling with an escalating military
campaign against the Islamic State, the specter of a new Cold War with Russia over Ukraine, and the
virtual disintegration of Yemen, which has been a seedbed for Al Qaeda.
Senior officials said they pushed Mr. Obama to name an Ebola coordinator as a way of easing pressure
on the staff at the National Security Council.
At the meeting on Wednesday, officials said, Mr. Obama placed much of the blame on the C.D.C., which
provided shifting information about which threat category patients were in, and did not adequately train
doctors and nurses at hospitals with Ebola cases on the proper protective procedures.
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Is the U.S. Prepared for an Ebola Outbreak?
A look at the government agencies and private entities that were involved in the case of the first person
found to have Ebola in the United States.


On Thursday night, in televised remarks, Mr. Obama sought to reassure the public about the dangers
from Ebola. But the sense of crisis that emanated from the White House was in sharp contrast to Sept.
30, when Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had traveled to Dallas, tested positive for Ebola. Mr.
Obama received a telephone briefing from Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., after which
the White House issued a sanguine statement that concluded: We have the infrastructure in place to
respond safely and effectively.
In the days that followed, Mr. Obama carried on as usual while his aides gamely added Ebola to their
bulging portfolios. On Oct. 1, Mr. Obama met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and
later had dinner with friends at the RPM Steakhouse in Chicago, where he had traveled for fund-raisers
and to deliver an economic speech.
By early October, as questions about the Dallas hospitals treatment of Mr. Duncan mounted, federal
officials began reassessing their response, even as they continued to express confidence.
C.D.C. officials publicly dismissed the effectiveness of screening for Ebola at airports in the United States.
But Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, found a way to make it work over the weekend of
Oct. 4. Mr. Obama announced the screening protocol the following Monday.
Even after Mr. Duncans death on Oct. 8, officials betrayed little sense of a change in approach. Mr.
Obama traveled to California for campaign fund-raising and on his return to Washington, received a
briefing from his secretary of health and human services about the announcement that a nurse who
treated Mr. Duncan had contracted Ebola.
The business-as-usual sentiment at the White House changed abruptly, officials said, when it got word
early Wednesday that a second nurse in Dallas contracted the disease. The fact that she had traveled on
a Frontier Airlines flight despite having a fever added to the concern, officials said.
This Frontier thing took it out of the abstract thing and to this level where people could identify with
and made them scared, a senior official said. Within hours, White House aides canceled a planned trip
by Mr. Obama to Connecticut and New Jersey. Hours later, Thursdays trip to Rhode Island and New
York City was also scrubbed.
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More Ebola Coverage
In their place, officials quickly scheduled two frenetic days of presidential activity: meetings, phone calls,
statements to the press. All other subjects were shelved at least publicly to allow Mr. Obama and
his senior advisers to confront the management of the Ebola response directly and to demonstrate the
administrations resolve publicly.
Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, has been leading the effort to prod Britain, Germany, France
and other countries to do more to respond to the outbreak. One of Ms. Rices deputies, Lisa Monaco,
who is responsible for homeland security and counterterrorism issues, has been coordinating the
domestic response, which involves working with the C.D.C., state and local health authorities, and the
Transportation Security Administration on issues like scanning of incoming passengers.
Administration officials insist the president has been deeply engaged since late August, when he played
host to African leaders, in prodding them to ramp up the fight against Ebola in West Africa. Last month,
he warned world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly to do more.
Its not that people arent doing anything, a senior official said. Its that theyre not yet doing enough.
Complicating the administrations international push, it is also pressing European allies to contribute
military resources to the campaign against the Islamic State. Officials said they were satisfied with
Britain and Germany, but that France had been dragging its heels.
Administration officials also said Mr. Obama felt that the United States needed to intensify its Ebola
efforts because the World Health Organization was slow to react to this, an official said.
On Friday afternoon, even before Mr. Klain started, the White House showed signs of returning to
Mr. Obama headed a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the state of the fight against
the Islamic State, which has become a grinding campaign in recent days, with American officials urging
Iraqs new government to deploy its troops more aggressively. The president is scheduled to campaign
for candidates running for governor in Maryland and Illinois on Sunday.
A version of this article appears in print on October 18, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with
the headline: Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe. Order Reprints|Today's
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