Top Senate Democrats on Monday were skeptical of President Trump's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, after former secretary Tom Price tried to "sabotage" Obamacare and resigned amid a scandal over his use of private planes.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Monday that he will "closely scrutinize" former pharma CEO Alex Azar that Trump chose to replace Price, who resigned after a scandal surrounding his private jet usage.
“I will closely scrutinize Mr. Azar’s record and ask for his commitment to faithfully implement the Affordable Care Act and take decisive, meaningful action to curtail the runaway train of prescription drug costs,” Wyden said. “Healthcare is too personal to be driven by politics, but that is what the leadership of HHS has offered so far.”
Wyden is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, which will consider whether to advance the nomination to the full Senate. Azar is a former HHS veteran who served under the George W. Bush administration and served as a top executive for pharma company Eli Lilly's U.S. division.
Thanks to a rule change imposed by Democrats in 2013, the Republican-led Senate can confirm any of Trump's nominees without any help from Democrats, as long as nearly all the Republicans agree on their own to support them. The rule change allows nominees to be confirmed with just a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 votes that used to be necessary to end debate on these nominees.
Still, Democrats like Wyden were making it clear Monday they think Azar is the wrong choice. Wyden added that former HHS Secretary Tom Price led efforts to “sabotage the Affordable Care Act and enabled congressional attempts to pass Trumpcare,” and called President Trump's record so far on healthcare as "objectively abysmal."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., was also very worried about Trump's latest pick. Murray is the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will hold a hearing on Azar but will not vote on the nomination.
Murray said she was interested to know whether "science or ideology will drive his decision-making, and whether he plans to continue the administration's ongoing and unprecedented attack on women's constitutionally protected health care rights."
She was also skeptical that Azar would be an advocate for lowering high drug prices.
"I am also interested in how, given Mr. Azar’s professional background, he believes he can fairly execute any significant effort to lower drug prices for patients — and I will do everything I can to ensure he meets the highest ethical standards, especially in the wake of former Secretary Price’s financial conflicts and abuse of office," Murray said.