Trump says reports of Alex Azar’s impending ouster are ‘Fake News’

President Donald Trump has denied rumors that he wants to fire Alex Azar, calling reports alleging as much “Fake News.”

The president said that the “Lamestream Media” had “never even called to ask” about Azar’s status in the administration before reporting on the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary’s ouster, and that “Alex is doing an excellent job,” Fox News reported.

“They never even called to ask”

The Wall Street Journal had reported on Saturday that Azar’s job was on the line, citing six sources in the administration, as a result of disfavor with his role in the early response to the pandemic. A day later, Trump himself weighed in to swat down the rumors.

“Reports that H.H.S. Secretary [Alex Azar] is going to be ‘fired’ by me are Fake News,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “The Lamestream Media knows this, but they are desperate to create the perception of chaos [and] havoc in the minds of the public. They never even called to ask. Alex is doing an excellent job!”

An HHS spokeswoman told the Journal that the secretary “is busy responding to a global, public health crisis and doesn’t have time for palace intrigue.”

“Irresponsible and a distraction”

The White House has reportedly long been frustrated with Azar and is eager to replace him, but officials are afraid of the optics of a shake-up during a pandemic response that is already being called unstable by many critics, according to the Journal and Politico, which also reported on the speculation. Azar led the coronavirus response early on before Trump replaced him with Mike Pence in February.

Possible candidates that were floated for Azar’s job included Seema Verma, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, who the Journal said has a good relationship with Trump. Dr. Deborah Birx was also among the names reported by Politico.

Meanwhile, the White House maintains there are no such plans in the works.

“The Department of Health and Human Services, under the leadership of Secretary Azar, continues to lead on a number of the president’s priorities. Any speculation about personnel is irresponsible and a distraction from our whole-of-government response to COVID-19,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement in response to the initial reports, according to Politico.

Palace intrigue

Still, the Trump administration’s coronavirus response has long been clouded by media speculation of palace intrigue, especially involving conflicts between Trump and his scientists. According to reports, Azar himself has been at odds with Trump for a while, and he doesn’t have many friends at the White House, Politico alleges.

Azar was notably mentioned in a New York Times article on Easter weekend claiming that the president blew past early warnings about the virus. The president slammed the article as “Fake News” at the time, but he also dinged Azar, saying in a tweet the secretary “told me nothing until later.”

While many in the media (including the Times) have largely blamed Trump for early missteps, the Journal published an article last week laying out examples of mistakes by Azar in the early months. The paper said that Azar “waited for weeks to brief the president on the threat, oversold his agency’s progress in the early days and didn’t coordinate effectively across the health-care divisions under his purview,” citing administration officials.

The president, for his part, has repeatedly dismissed claims that members of his coronavirus response team are on thin ice, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the administration’s response. At his press briefing on Monday, Trump slammed an “unfair” question about Azar and defended the supposedly embattled secretary.

“I think it’s a very unfair question, because you have many great professionals, some of them you have great respect for,” the president said, according to Mediaite. “You have other people in the other party who have said the same thing and with even more confidence. So a lot of people didn’t get that right.”

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