White House officials are weighing a plan to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Among the names on the short list to replace Azar are White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx, Medicare chief Seema Verma and deputy HHS Secretary Eric Hargan, said the four people familiar with the talks.
Senior officials’ long-standing frustrations with the health chief have mounted during the pressure-packed response to the Covid-19 outbreak, with White House aides angry this week about Azar’s handling of the ouster of vaccine expert Rick Bright.
At a recent task force meeting, Azar assured Vice President Mike Pence that Bright’s move to the National Institutes of Health was a promotion — only for Bright and his lawyers to release a statement that he would soon file a whistleblower complaint against HHS leadership, blindsiding White House officials.
Any move to replace Azar would be contingent on President Donald Trump deciding to move forward, and there is currently little appetite inside the White House for a big shake up amid the coronavirus pandemic.
An official stressed that nothing is imminent, but there are discussions underway at the White House about replacing Azar.
The discussions come after Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence, rather than Azar, as the White House’s point man for coronavirus response at a rare presidential news conference. Trump had privately expressed frustration over Azar’s lack of communication on key issues as the head of the White House coronavirus task force.
The White House, as it always does right up to the moment of Trump’s tweet, is denying the reports.
Azar to take the fall for Trump’s failures. https://t.co/C1QuoTbPcJ
— Rick Tyler-Still Right (@rickwtyler) April 26, 2020
HHS Secretary Alex Azar has a bullseye on his back, as Trump officials reportedly look to oust him in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic https://t.co/5ZTxJbRXl5
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) April 26, 2020