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Trump nominates new HHS Secretary Alex Azar

Sandhya Raman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Trump announced on Twitter he plans to nominate Alex Azar to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Azar will be "a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices," Trump wrote in his tweet announcing the coming nomination.

Azar will replace former Georgia congressman Tom Price who resigned from his post at HHS after a scandal involving the use of taxpayer dollars to travel via private charter jets.

In choosing Azar to lead the sprawling $1 trillion agency, the administration is going with someone with more of a traditional administrative and executive background, in contrast with former Secretary Tom Price. A physician and six-term member of Congress, Price resigned in September after he frustrated Trump with his performance in the health law repeal debate and Politico revealed Price spent around $1 million traveling in private jets for department business.

Azar served as both general counsel and as deputy secretary for the agency under the George W. Bush administration from 2005-2007. Both of those positions required Senate approval and he was confirmed by voice vote in both instances. Subsequently, he moved into the private sector, as the president of Lilly USA, the biggest affiliate of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. until earlier this year.

A graduate of Yale Law School, Azar clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia before going to work for the private firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding. He was a protege of Kenneth Starr and worked on Starr's team when he was independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton's Whitewater real estate scandal. Later, he was active in George W. Bush's 2000 campaign for president and was brought on as general counsel by Tommy Thompson, Bush's HHS secretary. He entered health care "largely by accident," according to his Yale biography.

Scott Whitaker, the chief executive of the medical device industry's main lobbying group, AdvaMed, was Thompson's chief of staff and worked closely with Azar from 2001-2005. He said Azar would help stabilize the department after Price's resignation in September.

"It would be a natural place to go, to a former deputy secretary of the department, who's got the seasoned sort of credentials to stabilize and lead an agency like that right now," Whitaker said. "He's a smart, thoughtful leader in health care and I think a calming force as well."

As deputy HHS secretary, Whitaker said Azar played a key role in implementing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which provided treatment overseas, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. While Democrats were initially skeptical of the Medicare benefit expansion in part because they favored a more generous program, those two Bush administration priorities have been embraced by lawmakers in both parties.

Leaders of the HHS divisions -- the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration, among others -- reported to Azar, Whitaker said.


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