Senate confirms Trump health secretary

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a new boss, Alex Azar, after nearly four months without a permanent leader.

The Senate confirmed Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, on Wednesday by a 55-43 vote with six Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingHillicon Valley: Hacker tried to sell military docs on dark web | Facebook fined over Cambridge Analytica | US closer to lifting ZTE ban | Trump, Obama lose followers in Twitter purge | DOJ weighs appeal on AT&T merger Senators press federal election officials on state cybersecurity 'Paws for Celebration' event brings rescue animals to the Capitol MORE (Maine) joining all but one Republican to support the nominee.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Rand Paul to travel to Russia after downplaying election meddling Implementation of a 'universal basic income' program would be a disaster MORE (R-Ky.) was the lone Republican to vote against his confirmation, after having previously expressed concern over Azar's reticence to let drugs be imported from overseas.

Azar replaces Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE, who resigned in September after Politico detailed repeated trips he took on private and military jets, costing taxpayers more than $1 million.

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Democrats have attacked Azar over drug prices — saying the cost of several drugs more than doubled during his time at Eli Lilly — and expressed concern that he would continue what they view as the Trump administration’s attempts to sabotage ObamaCare.

Meanwhile, Republicans cast Azar’s nearly 10 year tenure at Eli Lilly, where he served as president of Lilly USA from 2012 to 2017 years, as an asset because he already knows the ins and outs of such a complex industry.

Azar will take the helm of the massive department at a critical juncture for ObamaCare. It’s unlikely congressional Republicans will return to the difficult task of repealing and replacing President Obama’s signature health-care law, leaving the White House to seek changes on its own through administrative action.

Azar knows the regulatory process well. Under former President George W. Bush, he served HHS as general counsel from 2001 to 2005. He then became deputy secretary for two years under Secretary Mike Leavitt, who asked Azar to oversee the department’s regulatory process.

“He understands the process and he knows the levers and how you make it work and where the potential roadblocks are,” Leavitt told The Hill last year. “I think he would be of particular value given the fact that ... so far a repeal bill has not occurred and they’re going to need to make their imprint on existing laws through replacing the ideology underpinning it.”

Prescription drugs prices are also likely to be discussed under Azar's tenure. Lawmakers have criticized the high costs of prescription drugs, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE has said drug companies were “getting away with murder.” In nomination hearings, Azar said “drug prices are too high.”

But in those hearings, Democrats expressed concerns over Azar’s record as a pharmaceutical executive, and that was, in part, a reason why some senators voted against his confirmation.

“Here’s my view: Mr. Azar’s nomination is a perfect encapsulation of the president’s broken promises on prescription drugs and health care overall,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate panel to vote Thursday on Trump's pick to lead IRS On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a press release ahead of a procedural vote on Azar’s confirmation.

The panel’s chairman, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Senate panel to vote Thursday on Trump's pick to lead IRS Romney: Trump's remarks at Putin summit 'disgraceful and detrimental to democratic principles' MORE (R-Utah) has countered that Azar has the right experience to helm HHS, which oversees everything from Medicare and Medicaid to drug approvals and disease control.

“Mr. Azar spent several years as a senior official at HHS, holding key positions overseeing Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. He also led HHS’s responses to the anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11, the SARS and monkeypox crises, Hurricane Katrina, and many others,” Hatch said in a press release ahead of the confirmation vote.

“Clearly, Mr. Azar has seen both the good and bad at HHS and knows how to manage them. I don’t think there is anyone here, even on the other side of the aisle, who would contest that.”

The six Democrats who voted for Azar are Sens. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Overnight Energy: New EPA head looks to reassure staff | New round of ex-Pruitt staffers leave | House votes to overhaul fisheries law | Trump rips Germany for pipeline deal with Russia Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (Del.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin Sunday shows preview: Washington braces for Trump's Supreme Court pick America stands to lose as China places bets on developing world MORE (Del.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Overnight Health Care: Official defends suspending insurer payments | What Kavanaugh's nomination means for ObamaCare | Panel approves bill to halt employer mandate MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMorrisey accuses Manchin of 'lying' to Trump, attacks ‘liberal’ record The Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Doug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee MORE (W.Va.).