As funeral-goers prepare to lay Nancy Reagan to rest Friday afternoon, Hillary Clinton told MSNBC that the late first lady was responsible for starting a national conversation on HIV/AIDS at a time when the public was hesitant to discuss the health crisis. “It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” the Democratic presidential frontrunner said. “Because of both President and Mrs. Reagan—in particular Mrs. Reagan—we started a national conversation when before nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it.” Clinton added that she appreciates Reagan’s “very effective, low-key advocacy” because “it penetrated the public conscience.” Many critics would disagree, however, because the Reagans remained infamously silent about HIV/AIDS for half a decade, even as the virus killed nearly 20,000 Americans.
After the clip generated substantial controversy, Clinton responded with a statement: “While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I’m sorry.”