Hillary Clinton has apologized for calling Nancy Reagan a “very effective, low-key advocate” on HIV and AIDS, after even longtime supporters pointed out that the White House in the 1980s was actually late to respond to the epidemic.
“While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry,” Clinton said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Clinton, in Simi Valley, Calif., to attend Reagan’s funeral on Friday, gave an interview to Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC and cited the former first lady’s advocacy.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” she said. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation, when before nobody would talk about it. Nobody wanted to do anything about it.
“And, you know, that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public conscience and people began to say, hey, we have to do something about this too.”
This drew criticism on social media, including a tweet from Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed Clinton.
“While I respect her advocacy on issues like stem cell & Parkinson’s research, Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Griffin wrote.
President Ronald Reagan’s first major speech on AIDS was in 1987, well after the disease became an epidemic. Last year, Buzzfeed’s Chris Geidner published a story on Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s response in 1985 to the news that Rock Hudson, a friend from their Hollywood days, had AIDS and was being treated in France. When Hudson’s publicist Dale Olson sent a telegram to the White House, asking for assistance in having Hudson transferred to a different hospital, Nancy Reagan turned down the request, not wanting to show favoritism to friends.