Hillary Clinton praised Nancy Reagan on Friday during an on-air interview at Reagan's funeral on MSNBC, complimenting the former first lady for helping to start "a national conversation" about HIV and AIDS.
Clinton told MSBC:
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular, Mrs. Reagan, we started a national conversation when before no one would talk about it, no one wanted to do anything about it, and that too is something that really appreciated, 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.’”
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Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin, whose group has endorsed Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination and who has campaigned with her, responded by tweeting that Reagan was "no hero" in the fight against HIV/AIDS:
Within less than two hours after her MSNBC interview went public, Clinton apologized for her statements via Twitter:
Although he made no reference to the AIDS crisis, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate, released a statement after the announcement of Reagan's passing, where he said:
“No matter your party or political ideology, this is a sad day for America. Nancy Reagan was an exemplary first lady. A devoted partner, she was her husband’s most trusted advisor and, as such, served our country well. Even after her time in the White House, she was an outspoken advocate for stem-cell research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.”
Nancy Reagan is sometimes credited with pushing her husband to do something about AIDS, and he eventually supported some funding for research. The death of actor Rock Hudson, a friend of theirs, is often referred to as a pivotal moment.
In February 2015, BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner reported on a previously overlooked moment in history when Hudson, dying of AIDS in a hospital in France, had sent a telegram to the White House looking for help. He wanted to be admitted to a French military hospital that was believed to have special treatment, but he needed the Reagans to intervene on his behalf to be admitted because he wasn’t a French citizen.
Nancy Reagan responded to the telegram in July 1985 and denied the request, reportedly because helping a Hollywood friend was seen as unfair. But she requested the press be notified that President Reagan had called Rock Hudson.
President Reagan was also noted for failing to publicly discuss the AIDS crisis in any depth until 1987.