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Backlash Erupts After Trump Appoints Pence to Lead Coronavirus Response: He ‘Literally Does Not Believe in Science’

Mike Pence Addresses Coronavirus Response at Press Conference

President Donald Trump’s decision to task Mike Pence with heading up the federal government’s coronavirus response triggered an immediate backlash as critics noted the vice president’s record of doubting scientific evidence and his role in exacerbating an HIV outbreak in Indiana while he was governor.

Trump said Pence has “a certain talent for this” and specifically cited the “Indiana model” in the Wednesday evening press conference where he named his VP to run the coronavirus response. But as this extensive New York Times report detailed in 2016, the staunch conservative Pence’s health policies helped ignite a massive public health crisis in his state when he shut down a needle exchange program that had severely curtailed the spread of HIV. Virus infection rates exploded, and Pence — two days after he said he would pray on the matter — relented and reinstated the program.

Pence, who was once a conservative talk-radio star, also has a track record of questioning science, as when he wrote an op-ed in 2000 falsely claiming “smoking doesn’t kill,” decades after numerous academic studies and health research had linked smoking to higher rates of mortality.

That background prompted a number of politicians and public figures express both dismay and alarm at Pence’s role in leading the country’s response to a potential pandemic. Joining the backlash to Trump’s choice of Pence was Democratic primary frontrunner, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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