HIV once again absent during presidential debates

In theory, debates should be educational. They are supposed to be venues where voters can learn directly from the candidates about their policy priorities and political records while showing that their respective platforms can endure the scrutiny of both their opponent and the debate moderator. Ideally, voters should walk away from these debates feeling as if the issues they care about have been discussed and their concerns have been addressed by at least one of the candidates on stage.

The reality of what took place during the final presidential debate of the 2020 election was not terribly informative — at least not as far as the issues are concerned. The final debate was certainly a more coherent affair with moderator Kristen Welker (and microphones with a mute button) doing a much better job of keeping the candidates from talking over one another, but it wasn’t exactly a robust back and forth centered on the candidates’ policies.

There was a significant amount of time devoted to health care in last night’s debate, but very little of it focused on the specifics of the candidates’ respective plans. Vice President Joe Biden spent the majority of his time fighting back against President Donald Trump’s false claims that the Democratic candidate’s proposed public option would constitute socialized medicine and highlighting consumer choice under “BidenCare”.

Trump’s health care remarks were largely focused on attacking Biden, celebrating his administration’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and his desire to get rid of the ACA altogether. Trump said that his administration would, “come up with a brand new beautiful health care”, but gave no indication of what that would look like. Neither candidate provided a plan for what they would do if the Supreme Court found the ACA to be unconstitutional in 2021 and mandated it be struck down in whole or in part.

Unfortunately for prospective voters living with HIV, the HIV epidemic was not discussed during Thursday’s debate. This omission, while not necessarily shocking, was still deeply disappointing for the HIV community. It has been 16 years since the last time HIV was brought up during a presidential or vice presidential debate, and we are well overdue to have a primetime discussion on the federal response to the epidemic.

In 2016, members of the HIV community at least had the opportunity to sit down with the 2 leading Democratic candidates for president during the primaries to press them on their plans to end the HIV epidemic, address racial disparities in health care, and protect the rights of LGBTQ individuals. This election cycle — due in part to the chaotic campaign atmosphere brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — HIV advocates were denied even that chance.

Regardless of the election’s outcome, it is the expectation of the HIV community that the winning candidate will meet with HIV advocates to hear their vision for what the federal government needs to do to end the HIV epidemic. AIDS United will work with the members of our Public Policy Council and with other HIV advocacy organizations in the coming weeks to ensure that we have a seat at the table and to ask the next president the questions we wish moderators would have asked them during the debates.