Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ted Cruz debated science on Twitter this week after she decried Vice President Mike Pence's role on the coronavirus response

By Sean Neumann
February 28, 2020 03:07 PM

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ted Cruz got into a Twitter debate over science this week after the Democratic lawmaker voiced her dismay over Vice President Mike Pence being named the lead on the federal government’s coronavirus response.

“Mike Pence literally does not believe in science,” Ocasio-Cortez first tweeted on Wednesday, soon after President Donald Trump, 73, named Pence, 60, the administration’s point person for its response to growing concern about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“It is utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of US coronavirus response as the world sits on the cusp of a pandemic,” Ocasio-Cortez, 30, continued. “This decision could cost people their lives. Pence’s past decisions already have.”

Trump’s choice was immediately slammed by some, like Ocasio-Cortez, who pointed back to Pence’s handling of an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was the state’s governor.

Experts said the spread of the virus there was preventable but Pence acted too slowly because he was morally opposed to a needle-exchange program that would’ve limited the number of drug users spreading the virus via shared needles.

The HIV outbreak reportedly became the state’s worst ever.

Pence defended his actions in 2014 during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, saying, “Indiana would go on to change the law to mirror what action I had taken, but it was a moment where we had brought all of the resources to bear, first from a health perspective, a law enforcement perspective, and I’m glad to say that we got all of those people treated.”

From left: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ted Cruz
| Credit: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal/Getty; ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty
Vice President Mike Pence
| Credit: ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty

Democratic lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were quick to doubt Pence’s ability to successfully lead the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, while Republican lawmakers such as Cruz stepped in in his defense.

“As you are speaking as the oracle of science, tell us, what exactly is a Y chromosome?” Cruz, 49, tweeted back at Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday, adding, “And at what age of gestation does science tell us that an unborn child feels physical pain?”

Cruz also mocked Ocasio-Cortez’s stance on environmental initiatives, adding, “And, of the 195 countries on planet Earth, which country produced the greatest total reduction in CO2 emissions in 2019?”

She clapped back Friday morning.

“Sen. Cruz, while I understand you judge people’s intelligence by the lowest income they’ve had, I hold awards from MIT Lincoln Lab & others for accomplishments in microbiology,” she wrote, listing off her scientific accomplishments in a follow-up tweet. “Secondly, I’m surprised you’re asking about chromosomes given that you don’t even believe in evolution.”

The back-and-forth highlighted the rising political tension surrounding the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday would eventually reach American soil.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country anymore but a question of when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC.

The virus, which causes respiratory problems, first began spreading in China in December.

While many questions remain about the virus, the fatality rate is low.

At the news conference Wednesday where Trump announced Pence was taking the lead on the administration’s handling of the coronavirus, he said, “We’re very, very ready for this — for anything.”