The Cable

Liberian President Discusses Ebola on Capitol Hill Wednesday

The president of Liberia, the West African nation at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, will address members of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Wednesday during a hearing titled “The Ebola Epidemic: The Keys To Success For The International Response” on Wednesday. A congressional source said that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not ...

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The president of Liberia, the West African nation at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, will address members of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Wednesday during a hearing titled “The Ebola Epidemic: The Keys To Success For The International Response” on Wednesday.

A congressional source said that Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not officially testifying like traditional witnesses who speak before congressional panels but instead will address her country’s response to the disease. The source said that the president will field lawmakers’ questions but is under no obligation to do so; she offered to hear their queries.

“We don’t call her a ‘witness’ and we don’t call her to testify,” the source said.

She is listed as a “guest” in the committee’s hearing announcement.

According to the African Affairs subcommittee website, Sirleaf will speak via video conference from Liberia, where some 7,690 cases of Ebola have occurred, resulting in 3,161 confirmed deaths. Under the Pentagon’s Operation United Assistance, American troops are in Liberia helping with the international response.

In November, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $6.2 billion to fight the disease at home and abroad. According to reports, lawmakers are working to fully fund the request.

It’s highly unusual for a president of a foreign country to speak before a congressional committee, let alone agree to take questions. When foreign leaders come to Capitol Hill to speak, they typically address a joint session of Congress, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did in September.

“It is extremely, extremely rare if not unique,” the source said, adding that Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), chairman of the subcommittee, asked Sirleaf to address the panel. “Who better to talk to about Liberia’s health infrastructure?”

“She is gracious to accept, to want to participate. She volunteered to take questions, which is certainly not an obligation,” the source added. “She wants to be a part of the process. She wants to make a difference to her people.”

After Sirleaf speaks, Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, Anne Peterson, vice-dean of the public health program at the Ponce Health Sciences University, and other public health experts are expected to testify.

 

 

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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