In his first hours as U.S. president, Joe Biden plans to take executive action to roll back some of the most controversial decisions of his predecessor and to address the raging coronavirus pandemic, his incoming chief of staff said Saturday.
The opening salvo would herald a 10-day blitz of executive actions as Biden seeks to act swiftly to redirect the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency without waiting for Congress.
On Wednesday, following his inauguration, Biden will end Trump’s restriction on immigration to the U.S. from some Muslim-majority countries, move to rejoin the Paris climate accord and mandate mask-wearing on federal property and during interstate travel. Those are among roughly a dozen actions the incoming Democratic president will take on his first day in the White House, his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, said in a memo to senior staff.
Other actions include extending the pause on student loan payments and actions meant to prevent evictions and foreclosures for those struggling during the pandemic.
WATCH | U.S. overcompensating for storming of Capitol with inauguration security, expert says:
The huge security rollout in Washington, D.C., ahead of the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20 is because there is not a good grasp of intelligence, says security expert Christian Leuprecht, and officials don’t want a repeat of the Capitol security breach on Jan. 6. 5:33
“These executive actions will deliver relief to the millions of Americans that are struggling in the face of these crises,” Klain said in the memo. “President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration, but also to start moving our country forward.”
“Full achievement” of Biden’s goals will require Congress to act, Klain said, including the $ 1.9 trillion US virus relief bill he outlined on Thursday. Klain said that Biden would also propose a comprehensive immigration reform bill to lawmakers on his first day in office.
There’s one item on Biden’s first-10-days list that President Trump could easily have signed: A Buy American order<br><br>We’ve been writing since last spring that this is one potential area of continuity from Trump<br><br>But on Buy American: watch the details <a href=”https://t.co/nN04YLKvTy”>https://t.co/nN04YLKvTy</a>
The next day, Jan. 21, Klain said Biden will sign orders related to the COVID-19 outbreak aimed at reopening schools and businesses and expanding COVID-19 testing. The following day will see action on providing economic relief to those suffering the economic costs of the pandemic.
In the following week, Klain said, Biden plans to take additional action relating to criminal justice reform, climate change and immigration — including a directive to speed the reuniting of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump’s policies.
More actions will be added, Klain said, once they clear legal review.
U.S. president-elect Joe Biden has unveiled a $ 1.9 trillion coronavirus plan to turn the tide on the pandemic, speeding up the vaccine rollout and providing financial help to individuals, governments and businesses. 5:24
Incoming presidents traditionally move swiftly to sign an array of executive actions when they take office. Trump did the same, but he found many of his orders challenged and even rejected by courts.
Klain maintained that Biden should not suffer similar issues, saying that “the legal theory behind them is well founded and represents a restoration of an appropriate, constitutional role for the president.”
‘Buy American’ directives could impact Canada
Among the measures that will be executed during Biden’s first days in office will include directing the government to favour U.S.-made goods when it makes purchases — a rare point of agreement with Trump policy.
These “Buy American” provisions could impact countries like Canada. Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., told CBC’s Alexander Panetta in December that her team is preparing to formally speak to the Biden administration following the inauguration.
Hillman said her team will employ a similar approach to what they did when renegotiating NAFTA “by underlining the degree to which rules-based, predictable trade was in the interest of Americans.”
“We will recover faster, in a more resilient way and better from this economic downturn by working together,” Hillman said.
She said they also plan on using the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to ameliorate how interconnected trade is between the two countries, especially with regard to the supply chain of essential goods.
“COVID has been very difficult on both of our economies. It would have been significantly worse if we hadn’t been mutually committed to economic support of each other, and maintaining these economic relationships that are vital to our communities,” Hillman said.
But Hillman noted that it’s not yet clear how significantly the “Buy American” directives could affect Canada. “Depending on what happens, this could be large or it could not be large,” she said.
“We have to get a bit of a better idea as to how this policy will be implemented.”
British Columbia’s health minister has ordered an immediate review of alleged misspending by the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) during the COVID-19 crisis.
The order comes after CBC News brought forward concerns raised by multiple sources with intimate knowledge of operations within the PHSA, which is charged with ensuring access to a provincial network of health-care services.
The whistleblowers accuse B.C.’s central health authority of squandering $ 7 million on the purchase of unusable face masks from China; hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary renovations to its executive offices; and tens of thousands of dollars on high-end catered meals for executives and their staff.
Insiders say the costs were racked up despite Ministry of Health orders to end discretionary spending and direct every dollar to front-line workers fighting the pandemic.
“I was shocked and felt it was simply unconscionable,” said one source.
CBC News has agreed to protect the informants’ identities because they fear professional repercussions.
“As a taxpayer, it makes me sick. It’s wasteful,” said a second insider.
Health Minister Adrian Dix moved quickly after being shown their concerns.
“I appreciate these allegations being raised to me,” Dix said in a statement to CBC News. “I have directed the deputy minister of health to assess PHSA’s decisions and conduct … and provide advice and recommendations to me.”
New president, new spending
The whistleblowers claim the misspending started shortly after Feb. 3, when the PHSA board hired a new president and CEO from Montreal, Benoit Morin.
Morin is paid $ 352,000 a year, and his accommodation and a car are provided — part of his relocation package.
Both the PHSA and Morin declined to be interviewed, stating the minister has responded on their behalf.
Dix’s written announcement of a review includes the health authority’s submitted response to him — confirming some allegations while denying others.
The health minister indicated the PHSA’s answers will be scrutinized.
$ 7M worth of masks deemed unusable
The most costly mistake by the PHSA was the purchase of unusable face masks in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The health authority, in its response to Dix, confirms that Morin personally sought a supplier in his home province of Quebec “early in the pandemic.”
Of $ 11.5 million paid to the supplier, almost $ 7 million worth of masks brought in from China were deemed “problematic” and unusable in the health sector.
Sources said many were KN95 masks (Chinese standard) instead of N95 (North American standard) and failed fit tests, while other masks were deemed to be counterfeit.
The PHSA admits it eventually wrote off $ 6.7 million of the cost at the end of March but said nothing of potential additional losses carried into this fiscal year.
Insiders said the mistake was kept from the public.
By comparison, the federal government admitted it had purchased unusable face masks through a Montreal supplier back in May. It publicly vowed it would not pay for the shipments.
It’s not known if B.C. used the same Montreal-based middleman.
The PHSA said it decided not to pursue court action against the supplier because “the cost … would have outweighed any potential return.”
The health authority said that since the face mask fiasco, the Ministry of Health has toughened ordering procedures, “ensuring due diligence is undertaken before a final purchase is made.”
Redone renos to executive offices
Sources also criticize renovations that were torn up to accommodate more renos.
After more than $ 17 million had already been spent on renovations to the health authority’s new Vancouver headquarters at 1333 West Broadway, the PHSA admits that changes were ordered to the 14th floor.
It says the total cost of the “re-renovations,” which are ongoing, is almost $ 400,000, including nearly $ 60,000 on “technology upgrades.”
Whistleblowers allege that the changes were made to give Morin a better view of downtown Vancouver and the North Shore mountains.
But the PHSA “refutes that the CEO’s office was moved to improve the view. The new CEO office is smaller and incorporates a previously existing meeting room, enabling more privacy.”
It also says the renovations created additional office space, Zoom-enabled facilities and a reception area to “improve security on the floor.”
Critics say that’s spin — and whatever the reasons, the money could have been much better spent.
“At the height of a pandemic, spending $ 400,000 on a re-reno versus putting that money toward … MRI or CT scanners or ventilators, it’s just inexcusable,” one whistleblower said.
The PHSA said the money came out of its internal capital budget.
Catered avocado toast and steak nicoise salads
Insiders also take issue with catered meals provided at PHSA headquarters, well past the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff say they observed breakfast and lunch being brought in for a total of 18 executives and their assistants virtually every workday until about May. This was reduced to just lunches that continued into June, even after local restaurants reopened.
The PHSA confirmed the numbers and dates.
Breakfasts reportedly included avocado toast with lemon ricotta berry crêpes. Lunches featured steak and salmon nicoise salads and sparkling water.
Sources estimate the total cost to taxpayers was between $ 30,000 and $ 40,000. At the same time, many front-line health-care workers were putting in 12-hour days, often without adequate meal breaks.
“What bothered me the most was seeing the people paid the least suffering the most,” one source said. “And the people paid the most got the most.”
The PHSA insists its executives were working around the clock, holding meetings at all hours, and were trying to keep “their bubbles small.”
Insiders insist that only happened in the early weeks of the pandemic.
Dix, B.C.’s health minister, said one aspect of his review will be to “assess the policies, guidance and spending directives … [for] catered meals.”
‘Cost-effective’ goals at odds with alleged spending
With a $ 3.7 billion annual budget, the PHSA co-ordinates services with B.C.’s regional health authorities, sets provincewide health standards and runs the B.C. Ambulance Service, among other responsibilities.
Its website states that it’s “driven to … be cost-effective.”
But insiders said key senior executives who once oversaw spending at the health authority no longer have their jobs.
They include the chief internal auditor, the chief financial officer and the executive vice-president of commercial services and procurement.
In addition, the PHSA’s veteran chief operating officer has revealed he’s retiring.
Sources say all four executives had raised concerns about spending prior to their departures being announced.
“No one will speak up internally anymore,” one insider said. “We’ve all seen what’s happened to some of our most respected leaders who’ve already tried.”
The health authority says its board hired a new CEO to lead organizational change — and the resulting changes to the senior leadership team were supported by the PHSA board.
Whistleblowers want more extensive probe
While the whistleblowers who spoke to CBC News welcome the review of spending ordered by B.C’s health minister, they want a deeper investigation.
“The ministry needs to investigate how something like this could have happened and why a number of warning signals were missed or ignored,” one source said.
Yet another insider wants B.C.’s auditor general to look into the spending decisions.
“These are public funds, and our health-care providers and their patients should be a priority — especially during a pandemic,” the insider said. “This is irresponsible … and it needs to stop.”
As for the PHSA’s justifications provided to the health minister, one whistleblower doesn’t mince words: “I think B.C. taxpayers are smart enough to see through all that — they can tell when someone is trying to put lipstick on a pig.”
CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email email@example.com.
U.S. President Donald Trump escalated his war on social media companies, signing an executive order Thursday challenging the liability protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet.
Still, the move appears to be more about politics than substance, as the president aims to rally supporters after he lashed out at Twitter for applying fact checks to two of his tweets.
Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter and amounted to political activism. He said it should cost those companies their protection from lawsuits for what is posted on their platforms.
Trump and his allies, who rely heavily on Twitter to verbally flog their foes, have long accused the tech giants in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley of targeting conservatives on social media by fact-checking them or removing their posts.
“We’re fed up with it,” Trump said, claiming the order would uphold freedom of speech.
It directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies — though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.
Companies such as Twitter and Facebook are granted liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because they are treated as “platforms,” rather than “publishers,” which can face lawsuits over content.
A similar executive order was previously considered by the administration but shelved over concerns it couldn’t pass legal muster and that it violated conservative principles on deregulation and free speech.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asserted executive privilege over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report and its underlying investigative materials, escalating a battle with the Democrats on the U.S. House judiciary committee.
The move, announced by the Justice Department in a letter to committee chair Jerrold Nadler, came just minutes before the panel was poised to vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena to hand over the full unredacted report.
Executive privilege is a right claimed by presidents to withhold information about internal executive branch deliberations from other branches of government.
Democrats condemned the White House action.
“Besides misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege, since the White House waived these privileges long ago and the [Justice] Department seemed open to sharing these materials with us just yesterday [Tuesday], this decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties,” Nadler said.
A Justice department official said Trump did not waive executive privilege by sharing materials with Mueller, adding that the assertion of executive privilege is not an obstacle to potential testimony by Mueller.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said Trump’s moves to thwart subpoenas were obstructing oversight by lawmakers and inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, the subject of Mueller’s report.
“Every single day the president is making the case. He’s becoming self-impeachable,” Pelosi told the Washington Post, referring to the impeachment process in Congress to remove a president from office.
Pelosi said she believed Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official and a Trump appointee, should be held in contempt of Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump is ‘becoming self-impeachable.’ (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)
As part of an intensifying showdown between Democrats in Congress and Trump, Nadler held a committee meeting on holding Barr in contempt.
Trump is stonewalling numerous investigations by the Democrats, who control the House, of his administration, family and business interests, with court action likely to follow.
“The American people see through chairman Nadler’s desperate ploy to distract from the president’s historically successful agenda and our booming economy. Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands,” White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said.
Nadler blasted the department for abruptly breaking off “good faith negotiations” to invoke such privilege, and said its legal arguments lacked “credibility, merit, or legal or factual basis.”
Redacted report released last month
Barr last month released a 448-page redacted version of Mueller’s report on his 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Nadler subpoenaed the full document and all underlying evidence, saying the material was necessary for lawmakers to determine whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to impede the Mueller probe. Barr missed two subpoena deadlines, the latest on Monday, for turning over the material.
“We remain unanimously determined on our side of the aisle to get the unredacted report, as we’ve demanded,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on Nadler’s committee, told reporters.
“I can only conclude that the president now seeks to take a wrecking ball to the Constitution of the United States of America,” added Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
Rep. Doug Collins, the panel’s ranking Republican, criticized Nadler in a statement late on Tuesday for rejecting Justice Department officials’ “accommodations,” and praised “the department’s endurance.”
The U.S. House judiciary committee is slated to vote on a resolution reccommending the House find attorney general William Barr in contempt after he did not appear at a hearing last week. (Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters)
The House, then controlled by Republicans, voted in 2012 to hold Eric Holder, attorney general under Democratic President Barack Obama, in contempt for failing to turn over subpoenaed Justice Department documents about a gun-running investigation called Operation Fast and Furious. It marked the first time Congress had held the top U.S. law enforcement official or any cabinet member in contempt.
The redacted Mueller report details extensive contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Moscow as well as the campaign’s expectation of benefiting from Russia’s actions. But Mueller said there was not sufficient evidence to show a criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the campaign. The report also describes a series of actions Trump took to try to impede Mueller’s investigation.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration stymied a separate effort by House judiciary committee Democrats to subpoena records from former White House counsel Don McGahn, directing him not to provide the documents sought by the panel.
Mueller’s report said McGahn told investigators Trump unsuccessfully pressured him to remove Mueller, and then asked him to deny that Trump had done so. The accounts are based partly on the documents sought by House Democrats.
The Trump administration has refused to co-operate with congressional probes in at least a half-dozen instances, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s decision on Monday to deny a request for Trump’s tax returns from the Democratic chairman of the House tax committee.
U.S. President Donald Trump says he is finalizing a plan that would require immigrants seeking asylum in the United States to approach a legal port of entry, pushing a hard line on immigration ahead of next week's congressional elections.
It is not clear whether the plan would pass legal muster. The Immigration and Nationality Act provides that any immigrant in the United States may apply for asylum, regardless of whether he or she entered the country through a designated port of entry.
"Migrants seeking asylum will have to present themselves lawfully at a port of entry," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding that he would issue an executive order on immigration next week.
"Those who choose to break our laws and enter illegally will no longer be able to use meritless claims to gain automatic admission into our country," he added.
Trump has ramped up his tough stance on illegal immigration, an issue that appeals to his core supporters, before elections on Tuesday that will determine whether his fellow Republicans keep control of Congress.
'This is an invasion'
In recent days, he has sought to present as a threat to the United States a large group of migrants from Central America who have left poverty and violence at home and are heading slowly through Mexico toward the U.S. border.
"These illegal caravans will not be allowed into the United States and they should turn back now," Trump said. "We are stopping people at the border. This is an invasion."
Yesterday, Trump said the United States could send as many as 15,000 troops to the border to confront the migrant caravan, more than twice the number previously disclosed by defence officials.
Asked today if he thought they'd be firing on the migrants, Trump said he hopes not, but did not rule it out entirely.
"Anybody throwing stones, rocks … we will consider that a firearm because there's not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock."
Republican lawmakers and other Trump supporters have applauded the military deployment. But critics argue Trump has manufactured a crisis to drive Republican voters to the polls.
On another immigration front, Trump said this week he would seek to scrap the constitutional right of citizenship for U.S.-born children of non-citizens and illegal immigrants, saying he would issue an executive order on so-called birthright citizenship.
Trump and some other Republicans say the right – granted by the Constitution's post-Civil War 14th Amendment – creates an incentive for people to enter the country illegally to have children. Critics, including some other Republicans, say the president cannot change the Constitution by fiat. Such an action would virtually guarantee a legal challenge.
Fiat Chrysler Automobile announced Saturday that CEO Sergio Marchionne's health had suddenly deteriorated following surgery and that its board of directors had chosen Jeep executive Mike Manley to replace him.
Marchionne, a 66-year-old Italian-Canadian, joined Fiat in 2004 and led the Turin-based company's merger with bankrupt U.S. carmaker Chrysler. Manley, 54, had been heading the Jeep brand since June 2009 and the Ram brand from October 2015.
The announcement, at the end of an urgently convened board meeting, marked the end of the Marchionne era, which included the turnaround of failing Fiat, the takeover of bankrupt U.S. automaker Chrysler and the spinoffs of the heavy machinery and truck maker CNH and supercar maker Ferrari.
Fiat Chrysler said in a statement that due to his deteriorating health Marchionne "will be unable to return to work."
Marchionne, 66, had already announced he would step down in early 2019, so the board's decision, to be confirmed at an upcoming shareholders' meeting, will "accelerate" the CEO transition process, the statement said.
Fiat Chrysler's board recommends Jeep executive Mike Manley to replace seriously ill CEO Sergio Marchionne. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)
The British-born Manley had been one of Marchionne's closest collaborators at the group, and in a previous role had been responsible for product planning and all sales activities outside of North America.
Marchionne was reported to have had surgery for a shoulder problem about three weeks ago in Switzerland.
Fiat is considered a close-knit family, and FCA chairman John Elkann said he was "profoundly saddened to learn of Sergio's state of health. It was a situation that was unthinkable until a few hours ago, and one that leaves us all with a sense of injustice."
Elkann didn't give details of Marchionne's health problems, adding that his "first thoughts go to Sergio and his family." He asked everyone to respect Marchionne's "privacy and that of all those who are dear to him."
Elkann is a grandson of the late Gianni Agnelli, the longtime Fiat dynasty chieftain.
The boards of Ferrari and CNH Industrial, which makes heavy machinery and trucks, were called urgently to meet on Saturday in Turin, Fiat's headquarters.
Ferrari announced that Louis Camilleri, an Egyptian-board Maltese and longtime executive at Philip Morris International, the tobacco company, was chosen to replace Marchionne as CEO of the sports car maker.
A Fiat Chrysler sign is seen outside the Chrysler World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., in this file photo. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)
Known for sleeping only briefly each night, Marchionne, who is also a lawyer, was holding multiple leadership roles in the companies, notably as CEO of FCA — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, as well as CEO and chairman of Ferrrari.
In early June, Marchionne made his last major presentation as CEO of Fiat Chrysler. On that occasion he announced there would be a major investment thrust to make more electrified cars, although traditional engines will continue to dominate production. He unveiled FCA's plans through 2022.
Brands that have been driving the company's revenues include Jeep SUVs, Ram trucks and the premium brands, Maserati and Alfa Romeo. Those brands were expected to account for 80 per cent of revenues by 2022, compared to 65 per cent currently.
The passenger-car brands of Fiat and Chrysler have been less profitable.
At the June appearance, Marchionne also predicted Fiat was about to eliminate its debt.
Next corporate results are set to be released on July 25.
Prepare yourselves for some epic losses, Game of Thrones fans. The final season of the hit HBO series won’t air until 2019, but this week executives assured viewers that it would be a doozy at the INTV Conference in Israel.
In fact, the table reads were so impactful that they even caused several members of the cast to fall down.
“It was a really powerful moment in our lives and our careers,” said Francesca Orsi, the HBO SVP of drama, via Variety. “None of the cast had received the scripts prior, and one-by-one they started falling down to their deaths.”
The dramatic table read of the final six scripts was an emotional moment for the cast of the series. Orsi noted that everyone stood and applauded for 15 to 20 minutes after finishing.
“It was amazing,” she said. “By the very end, everyone looked down and looked up and tears were in their eyes.”
But fans of the show, which was adapted from George RR Martin’s bestselling novels, won’t have long to wait for more tales from inside Westeros.
“It feels like corporate malfeasance to not continue it,” Orsi noted. “That’s why it spawned three, four, five spin-offs… we’re going big.”
One super fan who does not want to be spoiled for the show’s final season is former star Rose Leslie. Though she was killed off the show, her fiancé, Kit Harington, is still on as the beloved Jon Snow.
“I remember over the summer obviously the new episodes for the final season were coming through onto his iPad. I can read his facial expressions. I don’t want to know anything that’s going on within his eyes, so I sent him packing,” she told Seth Meyers earlier this week. “I kind of boot him out so that he can go to the coffee shop, because I can gauge. If he stiffens, it’s like, ‘Ooo someone’s dead.’ And then my mind goes off.”
For more on the final season of Game of Thrones, watch the clip below!
Turning to an industry he’s rebuked, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday picked a former top pharmaceutical and government executive to be his health secretary.
If confirmed, Alex Azar would oversee a $ 1-trillion department responsible for major health insurance programs, including Obamacare, as well as medical research, food and drug safety, and public health.
The nomination of Azar is unusual because U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretaries have come from the ranks of elected officials such as governors, leaders in academia and medicine, or top executive branch managers — not industries regulated by the department.
“He will be a star for better health care and lower drug prices!” Trump tweeted in a morning announcement. Trump has a track record of making industry-friendly nominations, such as former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and wealthy investor Wilbur Ross as secretary of commerce.
Happy to announce, I am nominating Alex Azar to be the next HHS Secretary. He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!
But Trump also has been a scathing critic of the drug companies, both as a candidate and as president.
Azar, 50, a lawyer by training, has spent most of the last 10 years with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, rising to president of its key U.S. affiliate before leaving in January to start his own consulting firm. He’s also seen as an expert on government health-care regulation.
As secretary, Azar would be returning to the health department after serving in senior posts in the George W. Bush administration, including deputy secretary.
He would have to scrupulously avoid conflicts with Lilly’s far-reaching interests, from drug approval to Medicare reimbursement. The drugmaker has drawn criticism from patient advocacy groups for price increases to one of its biggest products: insulin, used to treat high blood sugar for nearly 100 years.
Azar’s earlier health department nominations in the Bush era sailed through the Senate. This time, he’ll face Democrats wary of the administration’s unyielding quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Top Democrats in Congress were skeptical, but also said they hoped Azar would bring a shift from an ideological hard line on Obamacare.
“It’s time to turn over a new leaf at HHS,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.
Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, flagged a potential conflict of interest, questioning how Azar “can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients.” Murray is the senior Democrat on the health, education, labour and pensions committee.
Given Alex Azar’s professional background, there are concerns on whether he can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients & families.
But committee chair Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, cast Azar as a problem solver, saying “he has the qualifications and experience to get results.”
Insurers and for-profit hospitals also reacted positively, while the Public Citizen advocacy group likened Azar’s nomination to a coup d’état by drug companies.
Americans consistently rank the high cost of prescription drugs among their top health-care priorities, ahead of divisive issues like repealing former president Barack Obama’s health-care law.
As a former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services and private sector executive, Alex Azar has the qualifications and experience to get results. The Senate HELP committee will promptly schedule a hearing on his nomination.
Trump has been a sharp critic of the industry. “The drug companies, frankly, are getting away with murder,” he said at a cabinet meeting this fall. Prices are “out of control,” he said.
In the spring, a Trump tweet sent drug stocks tumbling after the president said he was working on a new system that would foster competition and lead to much lower prices. In meetings with industry executives, however, Trump has focused on speeding up drug approvals, a cost-reducing tactic they would back.
Professionally, Azar has another set of skills that may be valuable to the president. In his previous service at HHS, the Yale law graduate developed an insider’s familiarity with the complex world of federal health-care regulation, serving first as the department’s chief lawyer and later as deputy secretary.
Frustrated by fruitless efforts to overturn the Obama-era health law in Congress, Trump might see the regulatory route as his best chance to make a mark on health care.
If confirmed, Azar would join the club of Trump administration officials from big business. Ross was chairman of a private equity firm he founded and later sold. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund manager. Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil.
Admirers say Azar’s drug industry experience should be considered an asset, not a liability.
“To the extent that the Trump administration has talked about lowering drug prices, here’s a guy who understands how it works,” said Tevi Troy, who served with Azar in the Bush administration and now leads the American Health Policy Institute, a think-tank focused on employer health insurance.
“Would [Azar] have been better off if he had been meditating in an ashram after serving as deputy secretary?” asked Troy.
Trump’s pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, also faced scrutiny for receiving consulting payments from drugmakers and medical device companies while in the private sector. Once in office, Gottlieb pushed efforts to lower drug prices by reworking FDA drug reviews to increase competition.
Azar would be Trump’s second HHS secretary, replacing former Georgia congressman Tom Price, ousted after his use of private charter planes for government travel displeased the president.