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The Full Story of Nancy Reagan and the AIDS Crisis

After they all sat down, Glaser poured out the story of the past seven years. Both Reagans had tears in their eyes as she described how Ariel, after months of being unable to walk or talk, had recently opened her eyes and said, “Good morning, Mom. I love you.” Ariel would die seven weeks later, at the age of 7.

That day in the White House, Nancy, with her customary directness, turned the conversation in a direction that Glaser hadn’t anticipated.

“How is it for your husband?” the first lady asked.

“It’s horrible,” Glaser answered. “It has been very difficult for Paul, but he has been remarkable. He is our hero, and he has stood by us.”

Nancy pressed: “What is your relationship with him?”

Glaser suddenly began to understand what Nancy was getting at. She was startled. This, after all, was an administration that didn’t even want to talk about condoms. But she sensed that Nancy was asking out of genuine sympathy. Glaser told her that, yes, she and Paul continued to have a sexual relationship, taking all the precautions her doctors had recommended, and added: “My husband kisses me and touches me, and he is really quite wonderful.”

A meeting that was supposed to have lasted for 20 minutes stretched into an hour. As Glaser and Wick were getting ready to leave, the president’s eyes locked with the distraught mother’s.

“Tell me what you want me to do,” Reagan said.

“I want you to be a leader in the struggle against AIDS, so that my children, and all children, can go to school and continue to live valuable lives; so that no one with AIDS need worry about discrimination,” Glaser replied. “Secondly, you have commissioned a report on the epidemic that’s been written by a phenomenal man. I ask you to pay attention to that report.”

Reagan responded, “I promise you that I will read that report with different eyes than I would have before.”

The Watkins Commission’s report, released on June 27, 1988, was unsparing, starting with its contention that there had been a “distinct lack of leadership” from the federal government. “It was a stunning repudiation of just about every aspect of the Reagan administration’s handling of AIDS, as well as a sweeping battle plan for how the nation might cope with the epidemic in coming years,” Randy Shilts wrote. Among its 579 specific recommendations was a call for the administration to drop its opposition to laws that would prevent discrimination against people who carry HIV; an increase of $3 billion a year in funding for the fight against AIDS at the federal, state, and local levels; comprehensive education about the disease, starting in kindergarten; and a new public-health emergency-response system, giving the surgeon general broad powers.

Despite his assurances to Elizabeth Glaser, Reagan took only modest actions in response to the report and ignored its central recommendations. “Time went by, and nothing happened. It was almost unimaginable, but the White House took the report and put it on the shelf. Hope for thousands of Americans and people around the world sat gathering dust in some forgotten corner of some forgotten room,” Glaser wrote later. Glaser had learned on her trip to Washington that her story could move people. But that meant she had to sacrifice her privacy—and that of her two HIV-positive children—to get it out. After Ariel died, Elizabeth and a group of friends started the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which went to work putting millions of dollars in the hands of researchers more quickly than the government seemed capable of doing. Around that time, she and her husband got word that the National Enquirer was working on a story that would reveal their family’s situation; the couple decided to step forward ahead of it, granting an interview to the Los Angeles Times that was published on Friday, August 25, 1989.

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The Huge Economic Costs of Refusing the COVID-19 Vaccine

Though there are some notable vaccination holdouts among Republican officials, most in Congress and in state leadership positions have encouraged their constituents to get the shots. “I saw on some program last week that Republican men, curiously enough, might be reluctant to take the vaccine. I’m a Republican man, and I want to say to everyone: We need to take this vaccine,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at an event in Kentucky this week. Brad Wenstrup, who worked as a podiatrist before becoming a Republican congressman from Ohio, has been so eagerly promoting the vaccines that he got trained to administer them. But the Republican politics around COVID-19 remain treacherous, and when I reached out to several Republican members of Congress, telling their aides I’d be eager to have them make a Wilson-esque fiscally conservative argument for vaccination, I couldn’t find anyone willing to make that case to me.

Calculating the exact long-term costs is tricky; we have only a year’s worth of data on the lasting health consequences of COVID-19, and even less on the efficacy of the vaccines and Americans’ resistance to getting them. Krutika Amin, who conducts economic and policy research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, tried to sketch out what the taxpayer bill might be. Before the pandemic, about 1 million Americans were diagnosed with pneumonia each year in emergency rooms alone. About 1.5 million were hospitalized for pneumonia annually, at an average cost of $20,000 per stay. COVID-19 has been reliably shown to make pneumonia worse. In April 2020, a Kaiser Family Foundation study projected that the cost of treating just COVID-19 cases for the uninsured would range from $13.9 billion to $41.8 billion. If even close to 30 percent of Americans get COVID-19 because they refused to get vaccinated, Amin told me, you’ll see a massive spike in health-care costs.

Kathleen Sebelius, who spent five years as Barack Obama’s secretary for health and human services, told me that about a quarter of Americans are children, and so far, no vaccine has been approved for use in people under 16 years old. If all adults who say they’ll get a vaccine get one, barely more than half of the country will be immunized, which is far short of herd immunity. In kids, “we have a very vulnerable population where we know they may not get as sick and die as much as adults, but they can get sick and die,” Sebelius said. “We have to think about this a little bit like secondhand smoke. By making an adult choice, you’re putting a whole lot of other people at risk in a way that very few other choices do.”

As lockdowns are lifted, Sebelius hopes that vaccine passports will create social pressure, which might wear down hesitancy if unvaccinated people are barred from sports games, concerts, and other public events. But the political divisions on that are already clear, with leaders such as Republican Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves going on CNN to stress that he wants his constituents to get vaccinated, but that he’s opposed to vaccine passports. Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed a preemptive executive order banning them. Although this resistance may halt any federal vaccine-passport efforts, some states and many private companies are independently exploring the idea. So is the Republican National Committee.

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Photos: Boston in the 1970s

Here’s a collection of some of the sights and events taking place in and around Boston from 1970 to 1979. Below, images of the blizzard of 1978, a victory parade for the Bruins after they won the 1970 Stanley Cup, enforcement and opposition to school segregation by busing, a Celtics game in Boston Garden, urban renewals and restorations, a St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston, anti-war protests, charm-school lessons, and much more.

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Can I Lie to Get the Vaccine Sooner?

People are definitely fibbing to get the vaccine early, experts say, though no one quite knows the extent of the problem. “I’m hearing a lot of entitled, empowered people, who are used to getting what they want, having conniptions about vaccination,” Arthur Caplan, the chief medical ethicist at NYU, told me. Few people, it seems, consider themselves nonessential. “I’ve asked about 30 people now, ‘Are you important in terms of your job?’” Caplan said. “And guess what? Twenty-nine of them said yes.” (The lone person who deemed themselves nonessential was a bank teller, he said.)

States, counties, hospitals, and other vaccine distributors are mostly running on the honor system, says Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. If you say you’re asthmatic or a UPS driver, you’ll probably slide right through. And there’s a good reason for that: People who have documentation of their medical problems are also more likely to have regular doctors and good record-keeping systems—things low-income, disconnected people might not have.

I live near Washington, D.C., which is full of people who never met a system they couldn’t game, so I am guessing the cheating is more common here than in areas where many people lack access to transportation or computers. In the southeastern U.S., for example, clinics have had a hard time filling slots, so some states have already opened up vaccination to additional age categories, Plescia told me.

Some line-jumpers are simply confused about the categories. Does the cloves phase you went through in college make you a “smoker”? Does working for a school, but not in a public-facing role, qualify you as an “essential worker”? Others are so determined to get a shot that they have signed up for practically every waiting list within a 100-mile radius.

[Read: The differences between the vaccines matter]

“People who get on multiple sites do tend to be successful,” Plescia said. But the problem is, once these folks get a shot, they forget to cancel their appointment at other sites. “And one of the reasons we think that some of the vaccine clinics are running a little slow is that a lot of people aren’t showing up, because they already got it somewhere else.”

I interviewed a few people who had stretched the truth to get a vaccine, and it sounded really tempting, even when the hoops they jumped through were extreme. (I agreed to use only their first names so they wouldn’t get dragged for their, uh, ingenuity.) One man, Alex, drove five hours round-trip to a small town in Wyoming, which he’d heard had extra doses. He truthfully answered all the screening questions except one: He doesn’t actually interact in-person with the general public.

Another man, Bob, drove to a Walgreens about an hour away from his county in Virginia. When he got there, he filled out a form saying he’s an essential worker. His claim was technically true, because he works for the government. But he can work from home. I asked him whether he thought I should do the same thing. “I would, I mean, because I did,” he said. “I would encourage others to do the same, because there’s nothing special about me.”

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Why Biden’s Press Conference Is Coming So Late

Overlooked is that Biden and his team are also making a strategic bet. Limiting his exposure to the press and, by extension, the public isn’t simply a defensive ploy to avoid an embarrassing gaffe. It’s a conscious calculation that people don’t need—or want—to hear from the president on an hour-by-hour basis, that they will be satisfied if he can revive the economy and end the pandemic. After all, Americans just had a president who entered their life and refused to leave, who gripped the megaphone and wouldn’t let go. Biden has no wish to resurrect Donald Trump’s in-your-face presidency.

“People aren’t beating down the door and saying, ‘Why isn’t he in my living room every day? Why am I not seeing that big face staring at me and promoting himself in some way?’” Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, told me. “People are happy to see Joe Biden when they see him. But they’re happy not to see him every day.”

Were he advising the White House, Luntz said, he’d recommend delaying the news conference even longer, perhaps holding one at the 100-day mark. “A press conference will not help him and can only hurt him,” he said. “There’s nothing to be gained from it. His message is getting out, and it’s getting out relatively unedited and uncriticized.” Luntz added that the audience for a presidential news conference these days is shrunken and fractured. “The problem is, you’re talking to the choir,” he said. “No Trump voter will listen to Joe Biden, just as no Biden voter would listen to Donald Trump.”

As of last week, Biden had publicly spoken about 116,000 words and spent 12 hours on camera as president, Bill Frischling, the founder of Factba.se, a data-analytics firm, told me. Over the same period last year, Trump had spoken nearly three times as many words and been on camera nearly three times as much.

That’s no accident. As president, Biden is following a pattern he set during the campaign. Citing the pandemic, he largely stuck to his home in Delaware while Trump raced around the country leading marathon rallies. Biden’s victory seems to have reinforced the belief that what worked in the campaign will work in the West Wing. In this view, spooling out news conferences sparingly carries no penalty, only upside. “Joe Biden is not that exciting, right? He’s genuine. We love him. But he’s not Obama. He’s not the orator in chief,” one former Biden-campaign aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me. “He’s boring in the best possible way. We need boring. We want boring.”

Boring seems to be paying off. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week showed that 59 percent of American adults approve of Biden’s performance in office, a four-point increase from January. Only 35 percent disapprove.

What incentive, then, does Biden have for showing up at a news conference and risking a misstatement or garbled bit of syntax? For one, it’s in the public interest for the president to make himself routinely available to questioning by journalists. For another, there’s always the chance Biden will ace the test. Republicans have spent the past two years spreading the notion that Biden suffers from some sort of cognitive infirmity. Against that low bar, he’s bound to exceed expectations. “Here’s where I think Republicans have made a mistake,” Ari Fleischer, a White House press secretary under George W. Bush, told me. “If Joe Biden doesn’t drool all over himself at the news conference, he’s going to have done better than they expected. They set those expectations at the drool level.”

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School Closures Could Hurt Biden—And Help Republicans

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is already facing attacks from Republicans and a fellow Democrat as he heads into a recall election later this year. Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is trying to balance complicated state and local politics in the lead-up to his own reelection bid this fall. Murphy has already seen the effects of the Biden administration’s national strategy for vaccine production and other pandemic-mitigation measures, he told me. Murphy isn’t focused yet on his campaign or how this or other issues might play into it, he added, but he was proud to tick through the progress his state has made since the lockdown began. More than 900,000 of New Jersey’s 1.3 million children are now participating in at least some form of in-person education, and Murphy hopes to get all students back to school in person, Monday through Friday, by September 1. For the interim, Murphy’s administration has provided students with hundreds of thousands of computers for remote learning. (A year ago, 231,000 New Jersey students didn’t have access to a computer. As of this month, that number is down to just 39 students statewide, according to the Murphy administration.)

But New Jersey also hosts some of the nation’s most intractable fights over reopening—most notably in Montclair, in the northern part of the state, where teachers have gone to court to fight against returning to their classrooms.

Murphy is a father of four, with two children still in high school, so he said he feels the impact of the school-reopening battle at home. “Is your kids’ education at or near the top of any mom or dad’s list of things that are important to them in life? Absolutely. There’s no two ways about that—and it’s more so in the pandemic,” he told me. He said he’s confident he’ll have good news by the fall. “Some states compete by having the lowest taxes. Some states compete by having no capacity limits in their restaurants or no requirements to wear face masks,” he said. “We compete with the No. 1 public-education system in America, and we intend to keep it that way.”

In the meantime, the standoffs around the country among politicians, parents, and teachers have the potential to fuel voter backlash. Parents who want their kids back in the classroom and on the playground are unlikely to be satisfied by the addition of critical race theory to curricula or the removal of Lincoln’s and Washington’s names from schools. Trump “spoke to” many Americans’ anger about school closures, Cooper told me. It’s not hard to see how Republicans other than Trump could capitalize on that anger.

The Biden administration’s goal is to have the majority of K–8 students in at least some form of in-person school by the end of next month, Cardona told NBC News last week. Cooper isn’t impressed. Everyone involved could do more if they wanted to, he said. The CDC’s decision to reduce the six-foot social-distancing restriction in schools to three feet, which will facilitate having children in classrooms, is a change he was hoping for. (Weingarten says she’s not yet ready to say that schools should accept that change.) But there’s more to do. He has his own children on a waitlist for a Catholic school that has been open for months, and he said he would eagerly move his children there if given the chance. Weingarten’s response on the CDC change, he told me, shows that “nothing’s ever going to be good enough. They’re only willing to listen to the science that allows them to give an excuse to the large districts, which remain closed.”

“If Jill Biden, Randi Weingarten, and [CDC Director] Rochelle Walensky said tomorrow, ‘Schools should open five days a week as soon as possible,’ they would be open in a few weeks,” Cooper said. “They have incredible power, yet they act powerless when they’re asked for support.”

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The Republican Plan to Game the Electoral College

In New Hampshire, Bill Gannon, a Republican state senator, has proposed similar legislation. He told me he got the idea from his son, a college student who had read about how Maine divvies up its electoral votes. Republicans control New Hampshire’s governorship and legislature, and if they pass Gannon’s bill, the GOP could wind up with an extra electoral vote in 2024 even if Democrats carry the state again. Around the time Gannon offered up his proposal, a prominent Michigan Republican suggested that his state do the same.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, a 24-year-old Yale graduate named Julie Slama wants her state to go in the other direction. A state senator first appointed by Governor Pete Ricketts in 2018, Slama has introduced a bill that would award all of Nebraska’s electors to the winner of the statewide vote. The last Democrat to carry the reliably red state was Lyndon B. Johnson. Trump won the statewide vote last year by nearly 20 points. But Joe Biden, like Barack Obama before him, walked away with one of Nebraska’s five electors by winning a district that comprises Omaha and its suburbs. Had Biden won about 44,000 fewer total votes across Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, that single electoral vote in Nebraska would have decided the election.

Yet when I raised this with Slama, she never mentioned the advantage her party would gain. Instead, she drew her argument from the Constitution. “The Founders and the Framers made it very clear that states, not segments of states, were intended to determine the president,” Slama told me, “and we really shouldn’t have presidential elections determined by lines drawn by politicians.”

Taken together, the changes these legislators are seeking would likely ensure that the next Republican presidential nominee wins at least a few more electoral votes in the race to 270. But the proposals could also backfire. All of the states trying to imitate Nebraska are battlegrounds; Trump won Wisconsin and Michigan in 2016, and he came within 3,000 votes of carrying New Hampshire that year. All of them could be competitive in 2024. “At the end of the day, I think that they might live to regret those things,” warns Ryan Hamilton, the executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party.

The desired result of the proposals, however, is clear: These bills are aimed at making it harder for Democrats to win. At this point, they are all long shots; none of the proposals currently has the votes to pass. But Democrats are taking them seriously, seeing the attempts to tweak the Electoral College system as linked to the GOP’s much more widely publicized efforts to suppress voter turnout.

If Republicans are trying to tinker with the Electoral College to boost their chances, many Democrats want to go much further to strengthen theirs. Some have long wanted to abolish the institution altogether. Others are pushing legislation that would effectively neutralize the Electoral College by creating a multistate compact to elect as president the winner of the national popular vote, an idea that arose in response to the disputed 2000 election of George W. Bush. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia—all controlled by Democrats—have endorsed the measure over the years, but few supporters believe that it will win over enough states to succeed anytime soon.

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Why Trump and Republicans Failed to Repeal Obamacare

“Obviously, it is the case that there were not enough conversations about ‘replace,’” Brian Blase, a conservative health-policy expert who was a top domestic-policy adviser in the Trump White House, told me. Dean Rosen, a GOP leadership aide from the early 2000s who went on to become one of Washington’s most influential health-care strategists, said, “There was an intellectual simplicity or an intellectual laziness that for Republicans in health care passed for policy development. That bit us in the ass when it came to repeal and replace.”

One reason for this laziness was a simple lack of interest. For decades, Republicans had seemed interested in health-care policy only when responding to Democratic policies required it. “Republicans do taxes and national security,” Brendan Buck, a former GOP leadership aide, quipped in an interview. “They don’t do health care.”

That ambivalence extended to the GOP’s networks of advisers and advocates. The cadre of Republican intellectuals who worked on health policy would frequently observe that they had very little company, talking about a “wonk gap” with their more liberal counterparts. “There are about 30 times more people on the left that do health policy than on the right,” Blase said.

Another problem was a recognition that forging a GOP consensus on replacement would have been difficult because of internal divisions. Some Republicans wanted mainly to downsize the Affordable Care Act, others to undertake a radical transformation in ways they said would create more of an open, competitive market. Still others just wanted to get rid of Obama’s law and didn’t especially care what, if anything, took its place.

“The homework that hadn’t been successful was the work to coalesce around a single plan, a single set of specific legislative items that could be supported by most Republicans,” Price told me. “Clearly, looking at the history of this issue, this has always been difficult for us because there are so many different perspectives on what should be done and what ought to be the role of the federal government in health care.”

The incentive structure in conservative politics didn’t help, because it rewarded the ability to generate outrage rather than the ability to deliver changes in policy. Power had been shifting more and more to the party’s most extreme and incendiary voices, whose great skill was in landing appearances on Hannity, not providing for their constituents. Never was that more apparent than in 2013, when DeMint, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and some House conservatives pushed Republicans into shutting down the government in an attempt to “defund” the Affordable Care Act that even many conservative Republicans understood had no chance of succeeding.

The failure to grapple with the complexities of American health care and the difficult politics of enacting any kind of change didn’t really hurt Republicans until they finally got power in 2017 and, for the first time, had to back up their promises of a superior Obamacare alternative with actual policy. Their solution was to minimize public scrutiny, bypassing normal committee hearings so they could hastily write bills in the leadership offices of House Speaker Paul Ryan and, after that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Can We Get Rid of Daylight Saving Time?

Tali finds herself going to sleep at a more reasonable hour, because her clock tells her it’s already, say, midnight, when it’s really only 11 p.m. for her next-door neighbors. When a friend wants to get together, she just has to remember to add an hour to the meetup time.

The Richardses’ 5- and 7-year-old mainly notice only when other people mention the time—which isn’t often, since they’re homeschooled. “We were doing a Zoom with the local library, and the librarian said, at some point, ‘It’s 1:20,’” Tali told me. “And my boy’s looking at the computer, and he’s like, ‘It’s 2:20.’ And that was a little confusing for the librarian. I was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re just doing daylight saving still.’” Because, well, no one can stop you from doing that.

More people might soon get to experience the Richardses’ schedule. A bipartisan group of senators led by Marco Rubio of Florida has introduced a bill that would make daylight saving time permanent. (Though 15 states have already voted to extend daylight saving time year-round, the change would require a federal move like this bill.) In a statement, Rubio cited reduced rates of crime, traffic accidents, and seasonal affective disorder as motivations behind the legislation, plus the fact that changing the clock is rather antiquated.

There’s no good biological reason to change the time twice a year, but most health experts support ending daylight saving time, not making it permanent. Studies show that people get better sleep during standard time, because the bright morning light and the reduced evening light make falling asleep easier. In the winter, a shift to daylight saving time would mean the sun wouldn’t rise until after 8 a.m. in many places, which could make it difficult for people who need to get to early-morning jobs and classes. Some studies show that the sleep loss induced by daylight saving time is associated with an increase in heart attacks and strokes. “When you get sleep deprivation, you start getting increased adrenaline and other hormones, and inflammation that can contribute to stroke and heart attack,” says Beth Ann Malow, a neurology professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville.

Still, experts say the bigger problem for health is the changing of the clock, not the precise hour America ends up on. Scott Yates, an entrepreneur and advocate for “locking the clock,” says he’s agnostic about whether the U.S. lands on standard or daylight saving time—as long as it picks one. With the biannual time changes, he told me, “I always felt like I was getting this jetlag, without even having the benefits of traveling.”

After seven years of pushing to stop clock shifts, Yates thinks this year’s bill stands a chance. The Trump era is over, so not every policy is tainted by whether a controversial president supports it or hates it. “I backed off [my advocacy] quite a bit during the Trump years, because I want this thing fixed, but I want it fixed permanently,” Yates said. “And I was really afraid that Trump would fix it, and everybody would be like, ‘Oh, I don’t trust it, because it’s Trump.’”

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann on Joe Biden and Abortion

Green: When you’re saying there’s a “grave moral evil” there, you’re saying that if Joe Biden participated in any legislative attempts, for example, to end the Hyde Amendment and allow federal funding for abortions—that would be the same moral evil as if he were to perform an abortion or assist some member of his family in having an abortion?

Naumann: I would say there is a similar gravity. They’re obviously not identical things. But he’s formally cooperating in abortion by his actions. He intends to make abortion available and accessible, to promote it, even help pay for it. He wants to force everybody else to do this as well, even if it violates their consciences.

Green: When Kathleen Sebelius, who is Catholic, was the governor of Kansas, you asked her not to receive Communion. Is this something you have done with other public officials?

Naumann: I had several conversations with her over a couple-year period about this issue, wanting to make sure she understood its gravity. At some point, I said, “Governor, we have to bring some closure to this.” I said, “I don’t really want to publicly embarrass you, but I ask that you don’t do this, because it’s what we would call ‘scandal in the Church,’ which means she could lead others into error by her actions.” Obviously Governor Sebelius wasn’t happy with that. Some months later, one of our priests called me and said she had been at a Mass and had come to Communion. So I chose to make it public that I had made that request to her. I’ve talked to other legislators about this issue. We haven’t taken the same actions at this time with others.

President Biden is not my parishioner. Governor Sebelius was. But obviously the president impacts us all. I want to protect my people from being misled. His actions, right now, do mislead. They do create confusion for people in terms of what the Church believes and teaches.

Green: Do you believe the bishops should more widely discourage elected officials who support abortion from taking Communion, and should forbid priests from offering it to them?

Naumann: I do believe that we have an obligation as pastors to try to work for their spiritual good. If it’s a member of public life doing things that are moral evils, then I or their pastor need to help them be aware of the seriousness of what they’re doing.

Green: As I’m sure you know, American Catholics are split on abortion, on birth control—or, for that matter, on issues like the death penalty, which the pope has condemned in stark terms.

I wonder whether a public effort to deny Communion to the most visible Catholic in the United States, Joe Biden, could be hurtful to those Catholics who don’t line up perfectly with the Catholic Church.

Naumann: Why is the abortion issue so morally important to us? The bishops of the United States recently ratified a statement in which we called it the preeminent issue of our time. It attacks innocent human life when it’s most vulnerable. It happens within the context of the family and attacks the most precious of human relationships: that between a mother and a child. And the sheer numbers of abortions—there’s no other issue in terms of the numbers of lives destroyed. So that’s why. It’s not the only issue for us, obviously, but it’s one that we consider preeminent.