Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show” in an exclusive interview Monday that reports that President Trump called him a coronavirus alarmist in January while the disease was gaining steam in China are “just not accurate.”
The Washington Post reported last weekend that Trump disregarded warnings from Azar over the severity of the virus that was sweeping through China’s Hubei province. The paper, citing unnamed sources, reported that Azar voiced his concerns to others and asked advice on how to get the president’s attention.
The White House called the report flimsy and based on an “outrageous” claim of palace intrigue. Azar told Todd Starnes, the host of the radio show, that there is “no air” between him and the president.
“As this disease has progressed, I have always had access to him, like I did during my two-year-tenure,” he said.
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The paper used the report to play into the narrative that Trump’s reaction to the virus was delayed and ineffective, but Azar said that theory is simply not that case.
He described an administration as keen on listening to new ideas on how to approach the virus.
Azar said he rarely has to wait more than two minutes to get Trump on the phone and the president is engaged so he could make those “difficult calls” during an unprecedented time.
Another recent report was that Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, got into a heated argument over the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug that Trump has said shows promise.
Azar said that he would not go into specifics about the Saturday meeting where the conversation allegedly occurred, but said there are clear benefits of sharing ideas and having a president and vice president willing to hear both sides of an argument.
“It is perfectly appropriate– and what makes a strong administration is the ability to actually have disagreements, especially about science and evidence,” Azar said. “It’s really important that we have– and that’s why it’s not good to leak information and disclose it—because we ought to be able to have debates in front of the president or the vice president so they can really hear all sides of the issue.”
He continued, “We shouldn’t be surprised that there’s internal disagreement or debate, we should actually commend the fact that the president permits disagreement.”
Azar said that it has been under Trump’s leadership that the government has moved aggressively on creating a vaccine for the virus. He said HHS created a potential vaccine just three days after getting the virus’ genetic sequencing from the Chinese, which is currently in human trials.
Azar said that unlike a vaccine, hydroxychloroquine is considered a possible therapeutic that could “potentially mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on individuals.”
“And President Trump, being the Right-to-Try president, has made sure that that product is available and legally can be used by doctors, subject to their best judgment working with patients.” He pointed out that the product is not approved, it showed promise in other countries.
Still, Trump attracted criticism over his comments about the drug, and even has a lawmaker in Ohio calling for him to be charged with crimes against humanity for encouraging its use.
He said Trump has been unfairly maligned in the media for promoting the possible benefits from the drug. He said it is not unusual for doctors to use “off-label” medications to treat various illnesses in the country.
“I think if President Trump says the sky’s blue they’re going to say it’s indigo,” Azar said, referring to the media.