President Donald Trump named Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the government’s response to the coronavirus this week, raising immediate concerns because of how the former governor of Indiana mishandled an HIV outbreak in the state during his tenure.
Following Trump’s Wednesday press conference on the coronavirus, candidate Bernie Sanders ridiculed the president’s handling of the epidemic thus far, as well as the appointment of Pence to lead the government’s efforts to contain it.
Sanders tweeted, “Trump’s plan for the coronavirus so far,” then listed the following:
“Cut winter heating assistance for the poor.”
“Have VP Pence, who wanted to ‘pray away’ HIV epidemic, oversee the response.”
“Let ex-pharma lobbyist Alex Azar refuse to guarantee affordable vaccines to all.”
Sanders ended the tweet with, “Disgusting.”
Sanders’ “pray away” quote was a reference to Pence’s response to Indiana’s 2015 HIV crisis, which happened while the vice president was governor. The closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic and the cutting of funding for needle exchanges were seen as major causes of the worst HIV outbreak in state history. During a 2015 news conference, Pence was pressed on whether he’d sign legislation for a temporary needle-exchange program, and replied, “I’m going to go home and pray on it.”
With Pence’s history of mishandling Indiana’s HIV crisis, Trump still lauded his selection of the vice president this week, saying Pence had “a certain talent for this” and was “very good on health care.” Trump added, “When Mike was governor of Indiana, they’ve established great health care. They have a great system there, a system that a lot of the other states have really looked to change their systems.”
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But astonishingly, and contrary to the president’s praise, The New York Times has reported that Pence was put in charge of the coronavirus because the vice president didn’t “have anything else to do.”