The shadow coronavirus czar

The Monday morning quarterbacking, especially around early testing stumbles, has particularly ruffled some feathers in the health department, where HHS Secretary Alex Azar is already dealing with criticism from White House officials — and where current FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has been virtually invisible on television during the crisis.

“I don’t know what his endgame is,” said one official, criticizing Gottlieb’s high profile, arguing that some of it’s come at the expense of his successor. “What’s he trying to prove, and why does he keep stepping on Hahn?”

Some officials also grumbled after Gottlieb penned Wall Street Journal editorials about preparedness in January and early February, claiming that his warnings about silent coronavirus spread were too alarmist — even if they’ve turned out to be true. It’s set up the media-savvy former FDA chief — who remains in frequent conversation with the White House and won as much bipartisan support as any Trump appointee while in office — for inevitable run-ins with current health officials who don’t have the latitude to make the same kind of policy pronouncements.

“He can say things that maybe the government would like to say because he has an authority,” said a source close to HHS. But at the end of the day: “They are making decisions that are going to affect 350 million Americans. He’s not.”