Dec. 1 was World AIDS Day and the beginning of AIDS Awareness Month. This year, the federal theme “Saving Lives Through Leadership and Partnership” presents an excellent opportunity to recognize the 1.2 million HIV positive Americans who achieved that status – HIV positive rather than advancing to AIDS – thanks to the advocacy organizations and interagency partnerships whose work reduced the virus from a death sentence to a manageable infection. Republicans played a part in those successes, and it would be politically expedient for today’s GOP to reclaim its victories.
Despite the prevailing narrative, Republicans don’t have an absent track record on HIV/AIDS. It was Republicans (and if I may add, the Log CabinRepublicans) whose efforts to accelerate FDA approval for early AIDS medication resulted in the breakthrough drug, AZT, reaching the market in a record fast 20 months rather than the standard eight to ten years. The Ryan White CARE Act, which Democrats continue to tout as their unique success, passed in 1990 with the support of all but five Senate Republicans. Its House equivalent garnered the support of 159 of 176 Republicans. The bill was ultimately signed into law by the late George H. W. Bush. His son would later create the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which can be credited with saving more than 16 million lives across the globe. Now, President TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE is expected to sign a bill extending PEPFAR’s global HIV/AIDS relief through 2023.
Opportunities for leadership abound in the current administration. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has already stepped up to develop alternatives to using human fetal tissue in research after a recent federal directive inadvertently immobilized ongoing efforts to find a cure for HIV. And while President Trump was quick to choose Dr. Robert Redfield, a renowned AIDS researcher, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two invaluable committees – the Presidential Advisory Council for HIV-AIDS (PACHA) and the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) – remain unstaffed to this day.
It’s slow but promising work. I’d also argue that Republican leadership on HIV/AIDS could spark a watershed reversal in the balance of power on the issue, if for an unorthodox reason. At the very least, assuring continued health coverage for HIV positive individuals puts Republicans in a favorable position as health care continues to dominate voters’ priorities. But if Republicans can take HIV/AIDS off the table by truly working to bring about the end of the epidemic, then they can rip the rug out from under House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Jan. 6 committee taps former Bush administration official as top lawyer Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE’s (D-Calif.) political war machine.
Pelosi has funneled support for ending the AIDS epidemic into support for her own brand of high-dollar liberalism since her first days on Capitol Hill, when she devoted a portion of her first remarks before Congress to demanding “leadership of course in the crisis of AIDS.” She has been successful in that regard, helping to secure early funding for people living with the disease through passage of the Ryan White CARE Act. She increased federal spending on HIV/AIDS by over half a billion dollars during her tenure as House Speaker, and more recently, used health coverage for HIV positive individuals as a sticking point to leverage support for the Affordable Care Act and guard against its repeal.
It’s no stretch to say that Pelosi has positioned herself as a visible advocate of the HIV positive community, a role Republicans would do well to counter. Accordingly, funds from HIV awareness groups and leaders in the LGBT space continue to pour in for the left. AIDS Action Council and the American Foundation for AIDS Research have given the entirety of their political contributions to Democrats in recent years. The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), donated over $600,000 to the Party of Pelosi during the 2018 midterm election cycle. Following two years of relative inaction on the HIV/AIDS front and unfriendly policies toward LGBT communities in general, this midterm also marked the first time since 1990 that HRC directed effectively zero percent of its contributions to Republican candidates.
According to the Washington Blade, Pelosi even declared a recent Palm Springs LGBT equality event a “fabulous” fundraiser for the Democratic effort to recover their House majority in the midterm elections. If money is power, Republicans have lost their public sway.
Republicans want to put the breaks on Nancy Pelosi’s money train, and we can do so while simultaneously saving millions of Americans from an eventual HIV positive diagnosis. But achieving this end requires real leadership where governance is required, and deference to HIV/AIDS experts where science must prevail. From a purely political standpoint, President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress should hastily pursue both.
Jerri Ann Henry is the Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s oldest organization representing LGBT conservatives and allies. Twitter: @JerriAnnHenry @LogCabinGOP