If a Thursday speech from the White House commemorating World AIDS Day seemed familiar, that’s because it was pretty much the same one they delivered last year.
Vice President Mike Pence called the annual event a day to “remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS,” in a speech delivered to faith leaders, lawmakers, and officials within the Trump administration.
“But it’s also a day to celebrate the remarkable progress that we’ve made in combating this disease and to reaffirm our ongoing commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat,” Pence said to tremendous applause from the Beltway crowd. “We are closer today than ever before to ending the AIDS crisis in our time.”
For the second straight year, the administration’s comments failed to recognize one of the groups most affected by the virus: LGBTQ people. In 2016, gay and bisexual men comprised two-thirds of new HIV cases in the United States.
But to make matters worse, the remarks were nearly identical to those made by his boss, President Donald Trump, a year earlier. In an official proclamation released by the Office of the Press Secretary on Nov. 30, 2017, the POTUS paid tribute to “the remarkable progress we have made in combating this disease.”
“Today, on World AIDS Day, we honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS, we celebrate the remarkable progress we have made in combating this disease, and we reaffirm our ongoing commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat,” he said.
After the word “celebrate,” only three words differentiate Pence’s statement from the one released by the press office a year earlier: “that,” “we’ve,” and “to.”
The rest of it is exactly the same.
The White House was unavailable for comment prior to publication time, but it wouldn’t be the first time that officials connected to the current administration have been accused of hitting the copy and paste button.
Most egregiously, First Lady Melania Trump has twice faced accusations of plagiarism.
First, many argued Mrs. Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention speech echoed former first Lady Michelle Obama’s address to the Democratic National Convention eight years earlier. Then earlier this year, a resource guide released by Melania’s “Be Best” campaign also drew striking similarities to a pamphlet from Barack Obama’s Federal Trade Commission.
Following backlash, the White House clarified the latter document was “a Federal Trade Commission booklet, promoted by First Lady Melania Trump.”
What adds an additional layer of irony to its newest plagiarism row is that the Trump administration has been criticized for drastically rolling back HIV programs since taking office. As INTO has previously reported, Trump proposed $800 million in cuts to HIV/AIDS funding in the 2018 budget—and then an additional $1 billion in next year’s fiscal budget.
Those decisions could result in as many as 300,000 deaths every single year.
Nonetheless, Pence praised PEPFAR—also known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—in his recycled World AIDS Day address. He said the Bush-era program “has been inarguably one of the most successful investments in health care and humanitarian aid.”
“Like all of you, this is a cause that’s close to the heart of the American people and close to my heart,” he said.
Directed toward HIV/AIDS relief in Africa, the vice president claimed PEPFAR has saved the lives of more than 17 million people since it was introduced in 2003. To continue that work, he said the Trump administration would continue the program for five more years, allocating more than $100 million to faith-based groups engaged in treatment and prevention abroad.
Pence did not specify which groups would receive that funding.
In addition to slashing resources to fight HIV/AIDS around the world, Trump has disbanded his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and refused to restaff the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). He has also redirected funding from the Ryan White Care Act to separate refugee families at the border and floated a policy ejecting HIV-positive troops from the military.
Meanwhile, Pence has been accused of contributing to an HIV outbreak while governor of Indiana in 2015. He has further claimed abstinence-only education is the effective only way to prevent the virus’ spread, calling condoms “a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.”
While he was running for U.S. Congress in 2000, critics say Pence also advocated that funding for HIV/AIDS programs instead be directed to conversion therapy centers. In a statement on his campaign website, he claimed “federal dollars [should] no longer [be] given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.”
“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” the website claimed.
The vice president has denied those remarks were about conversion therapy.
Although they did not comment on aspects of plagiarism in Pence’s speech, it has proven extremely unpopular with LGBTQ civil rights groups. In a tweet, Lambda Legal alleged the Trump administration “has done more to turn back the clock on access to health care than any [presidency] in recent history.”
Planned Parenthood further claimed that having a noted opponent of equality make a statement on behalf of an administration whose HIV/AIDS policies have threatened the lives of millions is hypocritical—to say the least.
“What’s on his schedule tomorrow, a lecture on women’s rights?” the group tweeted.