The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the White House is in talks to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar due to criticism of his performance during the coronavirus outbreak in the US.
While some mainstream news outlets have reported that the White House is already decided on a course of action, several White House officials have made it clear that no decision on Azar’s fate has been made as of yet.
Azar in the hot seat
Politico reported that much of the criticism leveled at Azar stems from the recent ouster of director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Dr. Rick Bright. Azar announced on Tuesday that Bright had been reassigned to a less prominent role at the National Institutes of Health.
Bright immediately came out with a statement alleging that he had been removed from his post due in retaliation for speaking out against the use of the controversial coronavirus treatment hydroxychloroquine.
Politico reported that White House aides are “angry” at Azar’s handling of Bright’s reassignment and that they “also have blamed Azar for long-running turmoil at the health department.”
The report went on to say that sources “familiar with the talks” revealed that Deborah Birx, Medicare chief Seema Verma, and deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan are all in the running for Azar’s position.
In the initial report, the Wall Street Journal acknowledged that the timeline of the proposed ouster is unclear, citing administration officials that say the White House is reluctant to shake up the leadership of the HHS in the midst of the pandemic.
White House fires back
Higher-ups at the White House came out en force against the rumors, denying that any such talks are currently in session.
White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement, “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.”
An HHS representative also publically dismissed the rumors, saying that Azar “is busy responding to a global, public health crisis and doesn’t have time for palace intrigue.”
Top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway also swatted away the rumors in a Saturday appearance with Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro, calling them “disappointing” and alluding to rumors earlier in April that top White House infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci was in a similar position.
“What I find curious and a bit disappointing is every time I read a story about a personnel change these days, it has to do with somebody who has oversight over the pandemic,” said Conway. “And it’s very unfortunate to me that you have some people wishing or willing that Dr. Fauci will be silent, or Dr. Birx will quit, and they will no longer be around, or the secretary of the HHS will be replaced in the middle of this president dealing with a global pandemic.”