Donald Trump hosted a White House meeting yesterday with members of the administration's coronavirus task force and executives from leading American pharmaceutical companies, one of whom broached a subject that piqued the president's interest.
Daniel O'Day, the CEO of Gilead Sciences, briefly referenced the administration's "HIV elimination program," which his company is involved in. Trump quickly interjected, referring to a possible timeline for ending the HIV transmissions by the end of the decade.
"So we're saying 10 years, but now we're into 9 years, because it could have been started earlier, and somebody else didn't start it earlier. But we started it right away. And I'm now seeing -- I started off saying 10 years and now I'm down to 9 years."
The president has used similar phrasing before. At a late-January campaign rally in New Jersey, the Republican boasted, "We will achieve new breakthroughs in science and medicine, finding new cures for childhood cancer and ending the AIDS epidemic, can you believe this, in America, in 10 years or less. We've already started the process, and it could have been started sooner by the past administration. They chose not to do it. I chose to do it."
In other words, Trump believes he has the high ground -- morally, politically, scientifically -- over Barack Obama when it comes to combatting HIV. When the Republican said at yesterday's coronavirus gathering that "somebody else" didn't start addressing AIDS, it was intended as his latest snide comment about his immediate predecessor.
There are two key problems with this. First, as a substantive matter, Trump is demonstrably wrong. As Daniel Dale recently explained:
It's not even close to true that the Obama administration did not try to stop HIV/AIDS in the United States, experts say and budget data proves. The Obama administration spent more than $5.5 billion per year on the three primary domestic programs to combat HIV/AIDS, according to figures provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which closely tracks health care spending. (That's in addition to billions in spending on international anti-HIV/AIDS initiatives.) Obama also introduced a comprehensive national strategy on combating HIV/AIDS. And experts note that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, helped people with HIV gain health insurance coverage.
Second, why exactly is the president taking cheap/wrong shots at Obama right now? Or more to the point, at a White House gathering about an ongoing public-health emergency, what part of Donald Trump thought, "You know, this seems like a good time to peddle some nonsense about Obama and his efforts to combat HIV/AIDS."
Paul Waldman recently asked, "Has there ever been a president who talked so much about the man who preceded him?" As Trump refuses to let go of his preoccupation with Obama, the answer seems clear.