'Utterly Irresponsible' to Put Mike Pence in Charge of Coronavirus Response, Says Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined the clamor on social media criticizing the appointment of Vice President Mike Pence as the head of a task force overseeing the U.S. response to the coronavirus crisis.

At a news conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump defended the White House's handling of the outbreak and praised Pence, who replaced health and human services secretary Alex Azar to head the U.S. response, saying he "has a certain talent for this."

But Ocasio-Cortez expressed outrage at the move, tweeting, "Mike Pence literally does not believe in science. It is utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of US coronavirus response as the world sits on the cusp of a pandemic.

"This decision could cost people their lives. Pence's past decisions already have."

In a follow-up message, she shared an article which described how Indiana endured its worst outbreak of HIV when Pence served as governor.

New York's 14th congressional district representative tweeted, "As governor, Pence's science denial contributed to one of the worst HIV outbreaks in Indiana's history. He is not a medical doctor. He is not a health expert. He is not qualified nor positioned in any way to protect our public health."

As governor of Indiana, Pence was accused of reacting slowly to the spread of HIV in Scott Country in 2015 and when presented with the idea of a needle exchange to slow the infection rate, he responded by saying, "I'm going to go home and pray on it."

The HIV outbreak in the state was cited by several people on social media as a reason which should disqualify the vice president from heading the U.S. coronavirus response.

Yale epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves, who investigated links between the HIV outbreak in the state to Pence's role as governor, tweeted, "This is a man that totally botched HIV outbreak in Indiana. This is not a good idea and speaks to a lack of seriousness by the @WhiteHouse."

Human Rights Campaign rapid response press secretary Charlotte Clymer tweeted to her 280,000 followers, "Here's the kicker about Mike Pence enabling the worst HIV outbreak in the history of Indiana: it was all because he wanted to shut down Planned Parenthood, which were leading HIV testing centers in the state. Mike Pence's distrust of women led to an HIV outbreak. No joke."

U.S. senator for Hawaii Brian Schatz tweeted, "Mike Pence is for conversion therapy. Mike Pence said smoking didn't cause cancer," referring to an op-ed he wrote two decades ago unearthed by Buzzfeed. "Mike Pence doesn't believe climate science. Mike Pence questioned whether or not condoms worked. So."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for a response to the criticisms of Pence's appointment.

At Wednesday's news conference, Trump was confident that the U.S. would deal with the coronavirus insisting that the risk to Americans "remains very low."

"This will end. You don't want to see panic because there's no reason to be panicked," Trump said.

Vice President Mike Pence with Trump
Vice President Mike Pence, pictured with President Donald Trump, speaks at the news conference with members of the coronavirus task force. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
'Utterly Irresponsible' to Put Mike Pence in Charge of Coronavirus Response, Says Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez | U.S.