Six months after a half-dozen members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS quit in protest, Donald Trump has fired the remaining 16 members.
The White House has not given any explanation for the terminations, which were reportedly issued via letters sent by FedEx. Many of the council members were Obama appointees and still had time left on their terms.
Gabriel Maldonado, director of the HIV/AIDS group Truevolution, said the “explanation is still unclear” why he and other PACHA advisors were let go. “I can only speculate,” he told Washington Blade, suggesting “ideological and philosophical differences” as the culprit.
On Twitter, AIDS activist Scott Schoettes, who resigned from the council in June, accused Trump of "executing a purge" and said the White House was "eliminating few remaining people willing to push back against harmful policies, like abstinence-only sex ed."
PACHA was created by Bill Clinton in 1993 to advise the president on HIV/AIDS research, treatment and policy. It's not unheard of for a president to clean house—Barack Obama eliminated all of George W. Bush’s PACHA appointees before making his own—but Trump just renewed PACHA for an additional year in September. Many of the outgoing members were recently sworn in again.
Critics see the move as symbolic of Trump's inaction on HIV/AIDS: After nearly a year, the White House has yet to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, one of the factors that lead to the June resignations.
The president's budget for fiscal year 2018 also includes a $150 million cut in HIV/AIDS programs at the CDC and more than $1 billion trimmed from funding to combat AIDS on the global front. (In April, President George W. Bush condemned the proposed $300 million cut to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a.k.a. PEPFAR, which has helped drastically reduce HIV-related deaths in Africa and beyond.)
The Blade reports replacements for the advisory council may come in the new year, as gay Republicans have been among those contacted by administration officials for possible appointments.