“The Department of Health and Social Services, under the leadership of Secretary Azar, continues to direct a number of the President’s priorities. Any speculation about the personnel is irresponsible and distracted from our whole-of-government response to COVID-19, “Assistant Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement on Saturday.
HHS spokesman said “Secretary Azar is busy responding to a global public health crisis and has no time for palace intrigue”, and has had no recent discussions on the possibility of his departure.
However, White House staff have been frustrated with Azar’s management style since the end of last year, when a quarrel with Verma broke out, a feeling that has only increased for the coronavirus crisis. But they feared to replace the HHS secretary in the midst of a global pandemic.
Such a move, officials said, could fuel President Donald Trump’s response as chaotic – and give ammunition to Trump’s detractors, who said the Azar-led response to Covid-19 hadn’t worked. January and February. Trump and Azar insisted that the administration take all necessary steps to prepare for the epidemic, challenging the critics as “fake news.”
However, the HHS secretary has few allies in the west wing, and his role has diminished after Trump abruptly removed Azar as head of the coronavirus response and replaced him with Pence in late February. White House officials have had previous conversations about replacing Azar in recent months, although ongoing discussions are more serious in the wake of growing frustrations with Azar’s handling of internal affairs, including the circumstances surrounding the dismissal from Bright, said two people familiar with the conversations.
Meanwhile, potential Azar replacements are on a much more solid footing. Birx conquered Trump and obtained allies in the White House for his mixture of scientific sense and soft diplomacy. Verma – whose professional status was fragile in December in the midst of his quarrel with Azar – saw his star rise during the pandemic, with a series of rapid actions to stimulate telemedicine and ease regulations, as well as other measures that deserved bipartisan applause.
Hargan, who led the HHS as acting secretary between October 2017 and January 2018 after Trump’s first HHS chief Tom Price resigned after controversy over his use of private aircraft, has had a significant role less visible. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows spoke to Hargan this week, although their conversation did not involve any discussion of a possible job change, said an administration official.
Three officials said that Azar had manipulated Bright, the ousted vaccine expert, as an example of his tumultuous leadership at HHS. The officials said Azar had assured the White House that Bright had been promoted to a new job at the NIH when, in fact, Bright had been demoted from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Pence and others left the coronavirus task force meeting only to learn later that Bright did not see his change of job the same way and would file a whistleblower complaint to describe the “retaliatory treatment to which [Bright] was submitted by the HHS political leadership after raising appropriate scientific concerns about the White House pressure on treatment and vaccines related to the COVID-19 pandemic, “according to Bright’s lawyers.
It was a different story from the one Azar had just presented at the meeting, and the last blow to Azar’s reputation in the White House.
In a statement, the HHS described Bright’s decision to transfer “the skills it has applied” to BARDA at the NIH “, as part of a bold plan to accelerate the development and use of new test platforms at the point of service “.
Since being replaced at the helm of the coronavirus response on February 26, Azar has made few appearances in daily press briefings on the fight against coronaviruses, even though MPs like the best disease doctor infectious Anthony Fauci regularly accompany Trump and provide public updates.
The past few weeks have undoubtedly marked the most difficult period in Azar’s term in the Trump administration. A series of reports criticizing Trump’s leadership in responding to the coronavirus angered White House officials about their portrayal of Azar in a more positive light, and incited an audience public rebuttal Of the president. A few days later, the White House installed former Trump campaign assistant Michael Caputo as the main spokesperson for the HHS in a move widely regarded as an effort to exercise more control over the activities of the health department. .
Azar’s chief of staff and trusted assistant Brian Harrison was fired this week for his role in directing the daily response to coronaviruses from the start. Administration officials also recently discussed the dismissal of Harrison, who has long been hampered by detractors in the White House and parts of the HHS, said two people familiar with the discussions.