March 13, 2016 at 4:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Sanders on Clinton HIV gaffe: ‘Don’t know what she was talking about’

Bernie Sanders, New Hampshire primary, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he doesn’t why Clinton praised the Reagans for HIV/AIDS. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s gaffe praising the Reagans for their HIV efforts, her rival for the Democratic nomination Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) has chimed to reject the remarks, saying he’s glad she apologized. Additionally, Sanders took the opportunity to issue own his plan to confront HIV/AIDS in the United States.

Sanders expressed confusion about Clinton’s comments on Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” in which he said, “I just don’t know what she was talking about.”

“In fact, that was a very tragic moment in modern American history,” Sanders continued. “There were many, many people who were dying of AIDS and, in fact, there was demand all over this country for President Reagan to start talking about this terrible tragedy, and yet he refused to talk about it while the AIDS epidemic was sweeping this country, so I’m not quite sure where Secretary Clinton got her information.”

Sanders added he’s “glad” Clinton apologized for saying President Reagan and Nancy Reagan started a “national conversation” on HIV/AIDS. They instead, Sanders said, “refused to allow that discussion to take place.”

“They didn’t get involved in it while so many fellow Americans were getting sick and dying,” Sanders said.

Watch Sanders’s comments here (begins at 7:55)

On Friday, Clinton said on MSNBC during Nancy Reagan’s funeral in California the late first lady and President Reagan started a “national conversation” on HIV/AIDS — a recollection deemed untrue and offensive to who remember the height of the epidemic. Within hours, Clinton apologized on Twitter, saying she “misspoke.” The next day, the candidate published an op-ed saying she “made a mistake” and renewing her call for an “AIDS-free generation.” However, Clinton hasn’t explained why she made the remarks in the first place.

On the same day Sanders during the CNN interview rejected Clinton’s initial remarks, the Sanders campaign made public a plan to confront HIV/AIDS, which afflicts an estimated 1.2 million in the United States.

“One of the great moral issues of our day is that people with HIV and AIDS are suffering and, in some cases, dying in America because they can’t afford to pay the outrageous prices being charged for the medicine they need to live,” Sanders said in a statement. “We must do everything possible to end the greed of the pharmaceutical companies and get people the medicine they need at a price they can afford.”

The multi-pronged plan would, according to his campaign, include “virtually universal access” to low cost AIDS medications as soon as they’re approved for sale and a push for legislation to bar discrimination against LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS. But, as outlined by the campaign, the plan has many components:

Sanders’ proposal would provide virtually universal access to lower-cost lifesaving medicines for HIV/AIDS as soon as they are approved for sale. As president, he would create a $3 billion a year prize fund to incentivize drug development. Instead of a system where the market is manipulated to keep out all competition, companies would be rewarded with a cash prize for medical innovations and patients would have access to all treatments at generic prices. This proposal would also be much cheaper than the current system, reducing the costs of drugs to employers, taxpayers and patients by billions of dollars per year.

Sanders would also direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and reduce barriers to the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada and other countries.

Globally, Sanders would fight to end the AIDS epidemic by expanding the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and doubling the number of people on HIV treatment worldwide by 2020.

A major reason why Sanders is leading the fight against the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership is because it would significantly increase prices for HIV/AIDS drugs for some of the most desperate people in the world. More than half of AIDS patients in Vietnam alone could lose access to their medications, according to Oxfam.

In addition to lowering drug prices, Sanders would significantly expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services by protecting and expanding community health centers. Sanders would ensure that all substance abuse treatment centers provide on-site HIV/AIDS testing and that federal agencies, state and local health departments, and mental health agencies have the resources to provide screening and referral services for individuals living with HIV/AIDS and who are at risk for HIV.

Sanders would also push for legislation to expand civil rights protections to all LGBTQ individuals and those living with HIV/AIDS.

“In the year 2016, it is unacceptable that a person can be fired or denied housing in many states based on sexual orientation, gender identity or health status,” Sanders said. “We have come a long way since our political leaders refused to recognize the thousands of people dying at the height of the AIDS epidemic. We must finish the fight by providing everyone living with HIV access to affordable drugs, by passing legislation to protect against discrimination and by expanding support and prevention services.”

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, was unimpressed with Sanders’ HIV/AIDS plan, calling it unrealistic after he had previously praised Clinton for her plan to achieve an “AIDS-free generation.”

“While we greatly appreciate Sen. Sanders’ past and current support in the fight against AIDS, and many elements of this platform, we do not believe his approach to providing innovative medications is meritorious or realistic,” Schmid said.

Schmid declined to elaborate on what makes Sanders’ plan lack merit or realism.

In the plan that Clinton articulated to achieve an “AIDS-free generation” the day after her gaffe, she came out against state HIV criminalization laws penalizing perceived transfer of the disease. Although his plan doesn’t address them, a Sanders spokesperson said he’s “absolutely opposed” to those laws.

Sanders has previously taken action on behalf of HIV/AIDS over the course of his campaign when he denounced Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli for raising the price of AIDS drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. The candidate rejected Shkreli’s $2,000 donation and gave it to the Whitman-Walker Clinic in D.C.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Sanders plan is unrealistic for the same reason as the rest of his pipe-dream plans: he can’t get it through a Republican Congress.

    • So someone as hated by the Republicans as HRC is WILL be able to “get things through”? I WILL TAKE MY CHANCES WITH BERNIE

      • You’ve got to do what you think is right, but IMO, Hillary isn’t promising very much. Basically, all she’s promising is that she will defend what we’ve got. That much, she can deliver. Underpromise, and at minimum, deliver.

        Bernie is promising a complete political and social revolution. That’s the epitome of overpromise, underdeliver, because there’s no way he’s going to reverse the fact that the GOP has gerrymandered 2/3 of the states. It’s going to take us a long, long time, and it’s going to require a lot of work to fix that. In the meantime, people are going to be so disillusioned by Bernie’s inability to deliver that the GOP will resurge in 2018.

        So long story short: being able to deliver matters.

        • So you’re voting for a do nothing candidate?

          • That’s laughable on its face.

            Assuming HRC is elected president, in the last 100 years, you can’t name even a single American president who came to office with greater high-level government experience, across-the-board, than Hillary has.

            Not Wilson, not FDR, nor Truman, nor JFK, nor even Nixon. LBJ and Bush 41 probably comes closest, But Hillary’s 8 years in the Senate and 4 years as Secretary of State — plus 8 years as First Lady (de facto chief advisor to the president) edges even LBJ and B41, arguably.

          • Experience without a good message.
            I prefer the candidate with the best message, and that is Bernie Sanders.

          • You also cannot name a single assumed presidency with a higher possible level of inherent obstructionism than you could with clinton, they (the republicans in congress) think she is a federal criminal, and a murderer. Regardless of how illogical their reasoning is, even the most moderate policies will be blocked out of spite and hatred, even more so than obamas are now. It will be a complete waste of a presidency.

            At least, even if all of Bernies proposals are blocked, he can incite a revolution to oust the republicans out of congress, and make nationwide change on ideals and morals alone. Hillary cannot, she’s far too moderate on all issues to incite anything or anyone to even get off the toilet to answer the door for her.

          • But it’s bad experience. She was a warmonger as Sec of State. She was a supporter of the revised, pro-Credit Card Bankruptcy Law and she supported the Iraq War. She was also a wife. That’s not “experience,” but it was collusion in his neo-liberal “reforms”!

          • “Forward” is not the only direction we can go, and progress is not inevitable. We can backslide–we can lose what we have now. Given the fact that the Republicans have locked in a Republican Congress and Republican legislatures and Republican governorships at least until the 2020 redistricting, we need to focus on defense. Hillary can do that.

            Sanders can’t do that, because he promised so much during the campaign that he can’t possibly get through of Congress. Single payer, free college, AIDS programs, etc… These policies couldn’t get through the Democratic supermajority Congress of 2009-2011. How are they going to get through a Tea Party Congress in 2017?

            Sanders has promised too much. When he can’t get it done, the voters will be disillusioned and a few will reflexively turn to the GOP. Many more will just not bother to vote in 2018, which is what happened in 2010. Obama has been fighting a rear guard action ever since.

            This is reality.

        • I could not disagree more.

        • She not only won’t deliver, she’ll collude. Watch how quickly she’ll give in on Social Security. She has the contempt for her constituency, as well she might if they support her.

    • Oh right. Don’t fight any battles and let the Republicans win by default. That’s realism for you!

  • Political priorities matter. This week… THIS very weekend, in fact… Trump unmistakably crossed a line into an openly racist and fascist campaign.

    But some LGBTs are finding the time to make a big deal about Hillary’s mistaken memory of a Nancy Reagan– THIRTY years ago???

    • Greetings Brian,
      Are you old enough to have gone through the Aids Epidemic? How many friends did you, lose because of it? Did you witness years of the Reagan Administration, turning its back on them; including the Reagan’s “friend” Rock Hudson?

      I will always “find the time” to “make a big deal” about the inhumanity of those who helped kill some of the finest of our proud, gay society. Remember Brian a society that forgets, will make the same mistakes again. This “mistaken memory” is NEITHER.

      • Sure. You paraphrase Santayana. And I reference the danger of racism and fascism– not as a distant history, but with currency and political priority.

        We’re not that far apart, Concerned.

        Past and present are two sides of the same coin. So it is not really a matter of how old any of us are, nor of what we personally recall. Surely, ‘current’ generations — from the ‘Greatest’ to ‘Z’ — can unite against the common enemies of our species.

        We are, each of us, just reminding fellow travelers of previous agonies borne of public apathy and negligence, occurring on two different journeys, and in two different eras.

        “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
        –George Santayana
        Remember Brian a society that forgets, will make the same mistakes again.

      • Are you equally outraged about the Clinton funding cuts? The Clinton’s cut AIDS funding in order to increase campaigned promised increases to cancer (breast). In the mid 90’s the money was especially needed.

        RR should have been more vocal …. but they did fund the NIH .. gave them as much $$ as they needed and CE Koop was protected and took a lot of crap.

        I could go on … Please .. don’t think I’m fighting with you.

        I was around at the time and remember how important that early research money was.

      • I will gladly accept any truth. However, Hillary is not in the habit of offering it and everything she does is calculated in her favor regardless of truth.

    • Brian,
      Government actively turned a blind eye and people died. It was a big deal.

    • Yes, why indeed hold the “lesser of two evils” candidate for her own callous lie? No mistaken memory that: pure pathology. And pure betrayal.

  • A Republican President, if elected, would likewise ignore the reality that LGBT’s today suffer from a lack of workplace and housing protections.

    Hillary too supported traditional marriage just 8years ago.

    Vote Bernie Sanders.

  • Nancy Reagan was a good person, so was her husband. Requiring all people to hate them is evil, so don’t do that.

    • No they were not “good.” She was not good. They were mediocre, silly, uneducated Hollywood people and they pulled the wool over the American public, the same American public that Mencken said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of. They were not “good.” In fact, they were bad.

  • This articule illustrates how Democratic establishment politicians like Clinton and their establishment hangers-on in non-governmental groups, like Carl Schmid of the AIDS Institute, really betray their own core constituencies. In this case the betrayed constituency is those infected with HIV (and by association, gays, who were the hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic in the Reagan years — their sexual orientation having much to do with Reagan’s refusal to publicly recognize the epidemic). On other occasions it is black and white workers, betrayed first by Clinton with her pro-Wall Street, pro-deregulation and pro-free trade stances — and then betrayed again by union leaders and black politicians and ministers in her amen corner.

  • Obama is not progressive either, he is like Hillary, a moderate in progressive clothing.

  • Bernie is a bit myopic in his staunch socialism.
    That can lead to his extra gentle handling of Hillary.

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