Vice President Mike Pence is now leading the administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak—but critics say his record shows he isn't the right person for the job. Early in his career, Pence wrote an op-ed claiming "smoking doesn't kill," and, as governor of Indiana, he was strongly criticized for his response to an HIV outbreak in 2015, the Guardian reports. Pence, who had slashed public health funding, resisted efforts to set up needle exchanges. Trump appointed "someone absolutely not up to the task to this crucial position," tweeted Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale University. Pence won bipartisan praise Thursday, however, for appointing AIDS expert Debbie Birx as the coronavirus coordinator, the Washington Post reports.
Government officials and scientists have been told to coordinate all statements with Pence's office, the New York Times reports, though administration officials say the vice president is seeking to avoid confusion and contradictory statements, not control what people say. Sources tell the Times that Trump chose Pence because he felt Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, who had been leading the effort, was too "alarmist." Pence said Thursday that Azar will continue to play a major role in the response. "I'm leading the task force, will continue to rely on the secretary’s role as chairman of the task force and the leader of Health and Human Services," he said in a meeting at HHS headquarters. (Read more coronavirus stories.)