President Trump on Wednesday tapped Vice President Mike Pence, whose career has included spreading misinformation about condom use and fueling the worst HIV outbreak in his state’s history, to lead the government response to the coronavirus.
“I’m going to be putting our vice president, Mike Pence, in charge. And Mike will be working with the professionals,” Trump said during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room.
“Mike is going to be in charge, and Mike will report back to me,” he added. “But he’s got a certain talent for this.”
Trump’s decision to make Pence the point person represented an effort to bolster public confidence about his administration’s response to the virus, which has spread quickly across the globe.
Trump announces that Mike Pence will be his coronavirus czar pic.twitter.com/ika9XERoRo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 26, 2020
In 2015, when Pence was governor of Indiana, his cuts to public health funding and reluctance to sign off on needle exchanges contributed to a terrifying local HIV outbreak that resulted in nearly 200 people contracting the virus, reports the HuffPost.
Pence laid the groundwork for the outbreak as a congressman in 2011, when the House passed his amendment to defund Planned Parenthood. That led to the 2013 closure of the lone Planned Parenthood clinic in Scott County, Indiana, which was the area’s only HIV testing center. By early 2015, local health officials were reporting a spike in HIV cases linked to intravenous prescription opioid use. At the height of the outbreak, 20 new cases of HIV were being diagnosed every week.
Pence, who became governor in 2013, ignored pleas by local, state and federal health officials to lift the state’s ban on needle exchanges. He said he was morally opposed to needle exchanges because he believed they supported drug abuse, which is not true.
After more than two months had passed since the outbreak was detected ― and after opting for prayer instead of action ― Pence finally allowed for a temporary needle exchange program in Scott County. The HIV cases eventually slowed.
In 2002, Pence criticized then-Secretary of State Colin Powell for advising young people to use condoms during sex. Pence argued that condoms don’t prevent STDs and actually threaten people’s lives.
“Colin Powell had an opportunity here to reaffirm this president’s commitment to abstinence as the best choice for our young people … and so I think it’s very sad,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. ”The other part is that, frankly, condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases, and in that sense, Wolf, this was ― the secretary of state maybe inadvertently misleading millions of young people and endangering lives.”
In a 2000 op-ed, posted on his personal webpage and unearthed by BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, Pence declared, “Smoking does not kill”:
Pence wrote: “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you… news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit.”