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, according to three officials familiar with the meeting.
White House officials also have blamed Azar for long-running turmoil at the health department and a series of media reports that portrayed him as urging Trump to act on the Covid-19 outbreak in January, only for the president and his aides to disregard Azar’s warnings as alarmist. Azar has denied the reports, saying that Trump “never once rejected, turned down or dismissed a recommendation” of his or the task force’s.