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Schumer calls for Azar to resign over 'chaos' in coronavirus response

Schumer calls for Azar to resign over 'chaos' in coronavirus response
© Greg Nash

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs Protect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday called on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to resign, arguing he has failed to stand up to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE in the response to coronavirus.

"It has become abundantly clear that the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services has allowed perhaps the most important federal agency right now to become subservient to the president's daily whims," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "So today, I am calling on Secretary Azar to resign immediately. We need a Secretary of Health and Human Services who will look out for the American people, not President Trump's political interests."

The call from Schumer comes amid a series of controversies at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

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On Monday, The New York Times reported that a top HHS official under Azar, Michael Caputo, accused government scientists of plotting against Trump and told supporters to buy ammunition. Politico also reported that Caputo and his communications team have sought to edit important scientific reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Trump has also put pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to move faster on approvals of treatments and vaccines, accusing the "deep state" at the agency of purposely slowing the process down.

Schumer argued that Azar has been quiet on these controversies and has not been standing up for scientists in his department.

"The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, has not only failed to push back against these outrageous moves by President Trump, he's been almost entirely silent about the chaos and mismanagement in his own agency," Schumer said.

Schumer is aiming for the top of HHS, at a figure who oversees the department but whose name has not been directly involved in most of the controversies.

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Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokeswoman, countered that Schumer's comments are "uninformed and are an attempt to mislead the American people and discredit the historic work of the Trump Administration to combat COVID-19."

"Secretary Azar has always stood up for balanced, scientific, public health information and insisted that science and data drive the decisions at HHS and across our operating divisions," Oakley said. "Secretary Azar has repeatedly briefed President Trump alongside the nation's top doctors and insisted that President Trump have direct access to these doctors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic."

She also pointed to a video showing multiple health officials, including the National Institutes of Health's Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci: Restrictions likely won't be reversed before Christmas Health officials warn of post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 case surge Year-end parties banned in South Korea MORE and Francis Collins, reassuring the public that science will drive the vaccine development process. 

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayNational reading, math tests postponed to 2022 amid coronavirus surge Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition DOJ investigation into Epstein deal ends without recommended action MORE (D-Wash.), meanwhile, on Monday called for Azar to fire Caputo.

“As the leader of our nation’s health department during a pandemic that has claimed more than 190,000 American lives, Secretary Azar has a basic responsibility to ensure our public health experts are able to do their jobs, our COVID-19 response is not undermined by misinformation or conspiracy theories, and the data used to inform our efforts is free of political interference," Murray said.