Health panel Dems demand answers from Azar on banned words

Health panel Dems demand answers from Azar on banned words
© Camille Fine

Democrats on the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday released a letter asking Alex Azar, the Trump administration's nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, how he would deal with a reported prohibition on the use of certain words at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Given your pending nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services, we seek your reaction to this reported new administration policy, as well as additional information about how you would plan to address these communications restrictions if confirmed,” the Democrats wrote.

The letter stems from reports in The Washington Post that senior CDC officials in charge of the budget told the agency’s policy analysts of a list of words they shouldn’t use in documents they are preparing for next year’s budget. The banned terms included “fetus,” “transgender” and “science-based.”

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In their letter, the senators asked him to elaborate specifically on the reports of “banned words,” if he agrees with the policy and if he would continue it if confirmed. They asked for answers by Jan. 2.

“It seems difficult to reconcile your stated beliefs about following science and evidence with reports of the Administration’s ideological censorship that undermines much of CDC’s work and the broader health mission of the Department,” the Democrats wrote.

In testimony before the committee last month, Azar expressed a commitment to following science and evidence at the agency.

CDC and HHS officials told The Hill there are no word bans and the reporting that was done was based on a misunderstanding of a routine discussion on budgeting.

“I understand that confusion arose from a staff-level discussion at a routine meeting about how to present CDC’s budget,” CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald said in a statement Monday. “It was never intended as overall guidance for how we describe and conduct CDC’s work.”