Published in The Daily Beast
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is currently on a media swing touting the Trump Administration’s pledge to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030. But given the administration’s actions to create a federal judiciary wholly inhospitable to both accessible health care and the LGBTQ community, this is breathtaking hypocrisy—and Azar should know it.
While Azar is pitching the plan to halt new HIV infections and end AIDS, the administration seems to be doing everything within its power to undermine that goal. Yes, the President’s budget has requested $291 million in additional funding for HIV treatment and prevention, but that modest increase is largely overshadowed by staggering cuts to other critical HIV-related programs, not to mention the administration’s efforts to halt Medicaid expansion. For example, Trump’s budget takes out $1.3 billion for the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. And all of this is happening while the administration is steadily pursuing a court-focused strategy to eliminate access to health care for tens of millions—including those with pre-existing conditions like HIV.
The court strategy is brazen and two-pronged: 1) Pack the federal courts with judges whose records show hostility to the Affordable Care Act and its promise of Medicaid expansion and coverage for preexisting conditions; and 2) Deploy political appointees in the Department of Justice to advocate for the dismantling of the ACA in court.
Part one of this strategy has been underway since the earliest days of the administration. No fewer than a dozen circuit court judges appointed by Trump have records of opposing the ACA. One obvious example is Chad Readler, a former Justice Department official. The very day Readler signed a brief arguing to gut the ACA, Trump announced he would nominate him for an influential seat on a court of appeals. On the Supreme Court, Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh is known for twice dissenting in rulings upholding the ACA while he served on the D.C. Circuit.