At a press conference yesterday, President Trump announced that Vice President Mike Pence will lead the administration’s response to the deadly coronavirus. If tapping Pence was meant to ease the growing concerns about the administration’s chaotic response to the threat of a global pandemic, Pence’s extreme anti-science views and abysmal public health record did quite the opposite. To further raise questions about how seriously the administration is taking this growing threat, Pence’s first public act as the coordinator of our coronavirus response is to give a political speech at CPAC.

MIKE PENCE’S “DEFINING MOMENT” AS GOVERNOR OF INDIANA WAS ENABLING A MASSIVE HIV OUTBREAK

Pence Cut Funding To Planned Parenthood, Delayed Declaring A State Of Emergency Amid Worst HIV Outbreak In State’s History. “The worst HIV outbreak in the state’s history happened on his watch in 2015, which critics blamed on Pence’s belated response and his opposition to authorizing a needle-exchange program. In 2011, as a member of Congress, he voted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Two years later, a Planned Parenthood clinic that had been the only HIV-testing center in Scott County, Ind., closed after public health spending cuts, HuffPost reported. Two months passed from the start of the outbreak in 2015 before Pence declared a public state of emergency.” [Washington Post, 2/27/20

Pence On CDC’s Recommendation To Implement A Needle Exchange Program: “I Don’t Believe Effective Anti-Drug Policy Involves Handing Out Drug Paraphernalia.” “‘I don’t believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia,’ he told the Indianapolis Star at the time. Despite assurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it is an effective way to halt the spread of infections and diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, Pence said that if state lawmakers tried to send him a bill for a needle-exchange program, he would veto it.” [Washington Post, 2/27/20

Yale Researchers Found That The HIV Epidemic Could Have Been Prevented If The Pence Administration Had Acted Faster. “‘Our findings suggest that with earlier action the actual number of infections recorded in Scott County — 215 — might have been brought down to fewer than 56, if the state had acted in 2013, or to fewer than 10 infections, if they had responded to the HCV outbreak in 2010-2011. Instead they cut funding for the last HIV testing provider in the county,’ said Forrest W. Crawford, associate professor of biostatistics and of ecology and evolutionary biology, and the paper’s senior author.” [Yale News, 9/13/18

HIV Researcher Gregg Gonsalves On Pence’s Response To The Austin Outbreak: “He Waited Til It Was Too Little, Too Late.” “The initial response was slow. Pence, then governor, opposed syringe exchange programs, which were illegal in Indiana. It took him 29 days after the outbreak was announced to sign an executive order allowing a state-supervised syringe program. By then, HIV cases had risen to 79. ‘He waited till it was too little, too late. These needle exchanges were put into place in the most grudging manner,’ said Gregg Gonsalves, an HIV researcher at Yale University. ‘It was a disaster that didn’t need to happen.’” [Kaiser Health News, 2/19/20

MIKE PENCE CLAIMED THAT “SMOKING DOESN’T KILL” AS RECENTLY AS 2000

Mike Pence In 2000: “Smoking Doesn’t Kill.” “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.” [MikePence.com, 2000

  • Pence In 2000: “There Is No Direct ‘Scientific Causal Link Medically Identifying’ A Link Between Smoking And Lung Cancer.” “Pence’s history of promoting tobacco companies and denigrating public health campaigns against smoking came back to bite him in his 2000 congressional race. His opponent, Bob Rock, raised it in a debate. Pence responded, per a local news report Kaczyinski unearthed, by saying that ‘the article was taken out of context and that while there is no direct ‘scientific causal link medically identifying’ a link between smoking and lung cancer that was not the point of writing it.’” [Vox, 10/4/16

Pence Voted Against Allowing The FDA To Regulate Tobacco Products. Mike Pence voted against the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. According to the New York Times, “More than four decades after the surgeon general declared smoking a health hazard, the Senate on Thursday cleared the final hurdle to empowering federal officials to regulate cigarettes and other forms of tobacco for the first time. The legislation, which the White House said President Obama would sign as soon as it reached his desk, will enable the Food and Drug Administration to impose potentially strict new controls on the making and marketing of products that eventually kill half their regular users. The House, which passed a similar bill in April, may vote on the Senate version as soon as Friday. ‘This is a historic step changing the nature of tobacco in society forever,’ said Clifford E. Douglas, the director of the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network, which has extensively studied the health effects of smoking and was one of many groups that have long pushed for tobacco regulation. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the new law would reduce youth smoking by 11 percent and adult smoking by 2 percent over the next decade, in addition to reductions already achieved through other actions, like higher taxes and smoke-free indoor space laws.” [New York Times, 6/11/09; HR 1246, Vote #187, 4/2/09]

Pence Defended The Tobacco Industry From Lawsuits Brought By States To Recoup Medical Expenses Related To Smoking. “Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence wrote an op-ed in 1997 equating the health risks associated with cigarettes with those associated with candy. Pence, who was a conservative radio host in Indiana at the time, was defending the tobacco industry, which had been successfully sued by some states to recoup medical expenses related to tobacco. The settlement also limited the tobacco industry from engaging in certain marketing practices. […] ‘The premise of the suit is quite creative. States are suing tobacco companies to recover the increased health care expenses incurred by Medicaid and Medicare programs from the use of cigarettes,’ writes Pence. ‘Sounds reasonable enough. If states have to bear the cost of health care for the poor and elderly, states should be able to collect from companies that contribute to bad health. The state of Indiana should have the power to recover damages from any company whose products cause an additional drain on the state’s limited healthcare resources cigarettes certainly qualify but what about candy?’” [Buzzfeed, 7/18/16

PENCE SLASHED FUNDING FOR PUBLIC HEALTH PROGRAMS AS GOVERNOR OF INDIANA 

Pence Signed Legislation That Cut Indiana’s Budget For Public Health Programs To One Of The Lowest Levels In The Country. “As governor, Pence signed legislation that cut Indiana’s budget for public health programs, despite the state’s many pressing public health problems. Indiana has a high smoking rate, high obesity rate, and high infant mortality rate. The state is ranked nearly last for both federal and state public health funding. According to Trust for America’s Health, Indiana spends just $12.40 per resident on public health. West Virginia, in contrast, spends more than $220.” [NPR, 7/21/16

Pence Cut Funding For The Indiana Tobacco Prevention And Cessation Office By $3 Million. “In 2015, Pence signed a law making it easier to create cigar bars in the state. And his administration slashed the already small amount of the tobacco tax and settlement money available for smoking prevention and cessation in 2013, well below the CDC’s recommended levels. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, ‘Funding for Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation was down to $8 million per year when Pence took office in January 2013. And within his first week, the Pence administration slashed the agency’s budget to $5 million.’ Indiana now has the highest adult smoking rates of any state in the industrial midwest region and the seventh highest smoking rate in the nation. With among the lowest tobacco taxes of any state, public health experts warn the state is ‘really in bad shape.’” [Think Progress, 7/14/16

Pence Repeatedly Voted Against Public Health Funding As A Member Of Congress. “As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2013, Pence voted against funding for health programs such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Prevention and Public Health Fund.” [NPR, 7/21/16

THE TRUMP-PENCE HEALTH AGENDA INCLUDES CUTS TO GLOBAL HEALTH FUNDING, REPEALING THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

THE FY2021 Budget Once Again Sought Cuts To Key Programs For Global Disease Response. In the FY2021 budget, the Trump administration proposed steep cuts to the two agencies in charge of the coronavirus response, seeking to reduce NIH funding by $3.7 billion and CDC funding by $1.29 billion. The administration previously proposed cutting global health funding in his 2020 budget from more than $10 billion to $8 billion, its lowest level since 2008. Per Foreign Policy, other Trump-backed efforts included “reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS.” 

Pence Supports Medicaid Block Grants, Which Threatens States’ Ability to Respond to Outbreaks. Under the Trump administration’s proposed block grant, federal funding would no longer necessarily increase in response to a public health emergency. This could lead to people losing coverage and access to care, undermining prevention and treatment of diseases nationwide. 

Efforts To Repeal The ACA Would Cut Key Funding From The CDC. In 2017, Vice President Pence promised “the Obamacare nightmare is about to end.” The GOP repeal bills Pence supported would have eliminated the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. In 2017, the Washington Post reported that this fund “provides almost $1 billion annually to CDC, now about 12 percent of CDC’s budget. It includes prevention of bioterrorism and disease outbreaks, as well as money to provide immunizations and heart-disease screenings.” The Trump administration is currently supporting a lawsuit that could repeal the ACA in its entirety, and there is no plan to maintain this funding if the courts overturn the health care law.