Mike Pence appeared on Fox News Thursday where he defended his role as Donald Trump’s coronavirus czar amid renewed scrutiny of his handling of an HIV outbreak in southern Indiana when he was governor.
The president announced Wednesday that the vice president will lead the US’ response to the outbreak, drawing immediate attacks from Democrats who scrutinized his record dealing with the spread of AIDS in his home state.
Pence has no medical background of any kind. He studied history at Hanover College and went on to learn a law degree. He also reluctantly agreed to authorize a needle exchange program in Scott County in March 2015 after the epidemic centered there saw the number of people infected with HIV skyrocket.
But he took credit for the needle exchange during an interview Thursday with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, telling him: ‘One of the reasons the president asked me to do this is precisely because of two different incidents in the state of Indiana. In 2014, Indiana was where the very first MRSA case emerged in the country.
‘In 2015, we did have in a small town in Indiana a rise in incidents of HIV AIDS. It was all directly coming from people sharing needles and intravenous drug use.
‘I don’t believe in needle exchanges as a way to combat drug abuse, but in this case we came to the conclusion that we had a public health emergency, and so I took executive action to make a limited needle exchange available.’
Mike Pence appeared on Fox News Thursday where he continued to downplay the spread of coronavirus and praised Donald Trump’s ‘unprecedented steps’ in containing the outbreak
Vice President Mike Pence, center, accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, center left, and National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, center right, and others, speaks during a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services
Greg Millett, director of public policy at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, said Indiana’s HIV outbreak would have been ‘entirely preventable’ if Pence had acted earlier in response to data that was available to Indiana public health officials and clearly showed an outbreak was imminent.
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington urged Trump on Thursday to reconsider the choice of Pence, citing his ‘lack of public health experience and record of putting ideology over science’ and his ‘leadership failure during the Indiana HIV outbreak.’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she spoke to Pence on Thursday morning and ‘expressed to him the concern that I had of his being in this position.’ Pelosi said that while she wants to work with the White House, she told Pence she was wary of his leadership after his track record in Indiana.
Pence also continued to downplay the spread of coronavirus Thursday and praised Trump’s ‘unprecedented steps’ in containing the deadly outbreak.
Speaking on Fox News Pence praised the president’s response to the crisis, adding that ‘the risk of the spread remains low’ while urging the Democrats to ‘push politics aside’. He told the host: ‘You know, the president’s message is clear. We’re ready. Ready for anything. This is not the time for politics.’
He added: ‘The reality is that because of the actions of President Trump took last month, literally ending travel, closing our borders to people coming in from China, establishing a quarantine process, setting up a task force.
‘If the president hadn’t taken those unprecedented steps, we’d be in a different place today. It was criticized by some at the time. But as I said, our health experts told me again yesterday we would be in a very different place today if President Trump hadn’t taken the decisive action that we had.’
The vice president told host Sean Hannity ‘the risk of the spread remains low’
A government chartered Boeing 747-400F cargo plane is seen departing Travis Air Force Base after unloading some Americans evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of China coronavirus outbreak, in Fairfield, California, United States on February 5
In California, 8,400 people are now being monitored for signs of the virus, while in Florida the governor refused to say if anyone was being tested.
The US’ first unknown origin case was announced in California Wednesday and the total number affected in America hit 60 on Thursday.
But speaking in a pre recorded interview aired Thursday evening Pence said the ‘unprecedented steps’ Trump took to contain the virus had stopped its spread, reasoning the president ‘has no higher priority of the health and safety of the American people’.
Pence told Hannity: ‘Today, you know, we haven’t had a new case for the last two weeks until the word that reached the public in the last 24 hours. We’ve had 15 cases in this country.
‘People are beating treated and doing well. One is still in the hospital. The other 45 cases are all American citizens that we brought back home, went through a quarantining process, monitoring them.
‘So I take my hat off to the president’s leadership as well as secretary Azar, the team at CDC, homeland security.’
He added: ‘The risk of the spread of the coronavirus in the United States of America remains low. That’s considering to all of our experts and a direct result of the unprecedented action that President Trump took last month when he closed our border to Chinese individuals coming in to the country and established a quarantining effort.
Pence argued that politics should be put to one side, adding: ‘I think we have an opportunity to do exactly what the American people want us to do. That is keep the politics out of this, follow the facts, follow the science and work the problem.’
Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the vice president will lead the US’ response to the outbreak, drawing immediate attacks from Democrats who scrutinized his record dealing with the spread of AIDS in his home state
The vice president moved Thursday to project calm in the role of chief coordinator of the government’s response to the coronavirus, chairing the first meeting of the White House’s taskforce on the virus – which has just four doctors, one of whom was absent.
The taskforce held its first meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services, hours after it emerged that the Trump administration had ordered its own health experts not to speak in public without permission from Pence’s staff.
Pence only held the meeting after he addressed the CPAC conservative conference and just before Wall Street closed with the worst stock mark sell-off since 2008.
He said Thursday: ‘The president made it clear yesterday, we’re all in this together. I spoke to speaker Pelosi. I spoke to senator Schumer. The president said reach out to them. Put the politics aside.
‘Get the resources that we need to respond to this to make sure the CDC, all of our agencies have the support that they need, the states have the support should this matter become more serious.
‘The American people can be confident that we’re going to bring at the president’s direction the full resources of the federal government to bear to protect the people of this country.’
Evacuees throwing their masks in the air as they prepare to leave March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California on February 11