FEDERAL | New Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Confirmed
After lawmakers completed a deal to reopen the federal government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to file a cloture motion to proceed with the nomination of Alex Azar to become the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This motion cleared the way for Azar's confirmation by a vote of 55-43. All Republicans, with the exception of Rand Paul (R-Ky.), voted in support of Azar's nomination. Sen. Paul disagreed with Azar about the merits of drug reimportation. Independent Angus King (Maine) joined six Democrats and Republicans to confirm the nominee: Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).
Azar is a former executive of the drug company Eli Lilly. He previously served as general counsel (2001-2005) and deputy secretary (2005-2007) of HHS during the Bush Administration. Azar faced opposition from the majority of Senate Democrats, who have criticized his ties to the pharmaceutical industry and questioned his ability to lead efforts to address the nation's rising drug costs. Democrats have also expressed concerns about whether Azar will continue efforts by the Trump Administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA). His backers, however, tout his managerial experience in both the public and private sector. Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) hope Azar works to address the opioid crisis.
Azar replaces Tom Price as HHS Secretary, who resigned in September 2017 amid a scandal over his use of tax payer dollars for travel on private jets.