WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday knocked his predecessor Donald Trump in a World AIDS Day speech and claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got “even” President George W. Bush to care about HIV/AIDS.
Biden jabbed at Trump despite the former president setting a 2030 goal to end HIV transmission and seemed to also minimize Bush’s leadership in creating the PEPFAR program that saved millions of lives and reduced HIV infections by giving medicine to poor and mostly African countries.
“Nancy, not a joke, you were the one who started that fight in a way that you took it on with such passion,” Biden told Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the White House. “It was viewed as a political death sentence to take this issue on at the time. But you did it. You fundamentally changed the way we looked at this. You even got George Bush to lead on this too.”
Working in a dig at Trump, though not by name, Biden put on a look of disgust while delivering the applause line: “When my administration came to office, not only did we re-establish the White House Office of National AIDS policy which hard to believe…”
“That was the easiest possible thing to do,” Biden continued. “No, I really mean it. Think about it, think about it, it gets a round of applause in the year 2021 when we say that? I mean, it should have never ever — anyway, I don’t want to get into that.”
Biden didn’t mention Trump’s surprising 2019 launch of a federal initiative “to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.” Trump backed that plan with a final budget request of $716 million to fight HIV/AIDS.
Biden told the crowd about his administration’s own $670 million HIV/AIDS budget request, which actually is less than Trump’s.
“We’re going to take aggressive action and back it up. We’ve asked Congress for $670 million, a historic budget request, for the ending the HIV epidemic in the United States initiative,” Biden said.
The president gave Bush greater credit later in the event, while regaling the crowd about his own role re-authorizing Bush’s PEPFAR program, which the Republican president proposed in January 2003 before Congress approved an initial $15 billion to aid poor countries. Pelosi was not a bill sponsor, but voted for the bill and supported PEPFAR extensions.
“Leading reauthorization of PEPFAR in 2008 was among the highlights of my time as chairman of the foreign relations committee,” Biden said. “I was not one of the great leaders in this. I always supported the effort but it was because I was chairman of the committee. And believe it or not, there was a Republican president, and I’m not being a wise guy when I say this, who pushed for PEPFAR.”
Later, Biden noted that Bush, who often cited his Christian faith when pushing PEPFAR and credited Condoleeza Rice with advising him on the matter, founded the ambitious global HIV/AIDS program.
“Since President Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003, we’ve saved more than 21 million lives. we’ve prevented millions of HIV infections and we’ve helped at least 20 countries bring their HIV epidemics under control or reach their… treatment targets,” Biden said.
“Through PEPFAR the United States will support nearly 19 million men, women and children with life-saving HIV treatment. It’s an incredible, incredible achievement.”