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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 KingCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel People have forgotten 'facade' of independent politicians, says GOP strategist Senate poised to confirm Kavanaugh after bitter fight MORE (Maine) joining all but one Republican to support the nominee.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNoisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Five things to watch for in deteriorating US-Saudi relations 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 PriceGOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Watchdog calls for investigation into Haley flights White House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report 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 TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border 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 WydenCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug On The Money: Jobless rate hits 49-year low | Officials face legal obstacles to pursuing tax charges against Trump | Tax story prompts calls to revise estate rules 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 HatchRomney defends Trump’s policies as ‘effective,' disputes he led 'never Trump' movement GOP fractured over filling Supreme Court vacancies in 2020 George W. Bush, Mitt Romney to visit Arizona to boost Martha McSally 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 CarperTrump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths Bipartisan group of senators ask Trump to increase focus on maternal deaths MORE (Del.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners 15 Saudis identified in disappearance of Washington Post columnist The Senate needs to cool it MORE (Del.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Big haul for O'Rourke | Senators press Trump to get tougher on Saudis | Kavanaugh tensions linger The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Dem victories in `18 will not calm party turbulence Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDemocrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Florida politics play into disaster relief debate Cornyn: 'All the money in the world' won't help O'Rourke win Texas MORE (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees Overnight Energy: Climate skeptic confirmed as DOJ environmental lawyer | EPA to phase out air pollution panel | Ad campaign targets mercury rule proposal MORE (W.Va.).