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Schumer calls for HHS Secretary Azar to resign immediately as Democrats probe coronavirus reporting

US Senator Chuck Schumer demands Veterans Affairs (VA) to answer purpose of recent bulk order of Hydroxychloroquine medication during COVID-19 pandemic at 780 3rd Avenue.

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday called for HHS Secretary Alex Azar to resign immediately as Democrats investigate whether Trump administration appointees meddled with coronavirus reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, has not only failed to push back against these outrageous moves by President Trump, he has been almost entirely silent about the chaos and mismanagement in his own agency,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “In Trump’s administration, the most important skill is the ability to stand up to the president and resist political influence.”

Democrats in the House launched an investigation Monday into a report from Politico that said Trump political appointees have demanded the right to review and change weekly scientific reports from the CDC on the coronavirus pandemic. HHS oversees the CDC and other health agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

“It has become abundantly clear that the leadership at 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,” said Schumer, D-N.Y. “So today, I’m 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.”

Neither the White House nor HHS responded to a request for comment.

Schumer’s call comes after mounting concern from Democrats that data and vaccine approval could be influenced by the White House. In July, the Trump administration ordered hospitals to send coronavirus data directly to HHS, bypassing the CDC. That change raised questions of how the integrity of the data would be maintained.

President Donald Trump’s statement that a vaccine could be ready before Election Day raised flags for lawmakers and infectious disease experts who worried the process would be rushed for political gain. But Trump has denied that would be the case. White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said it’s unlikely the vaccine would be ready prior to the election.

This is not the first time Azar has come under fire this year over his handling of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. Initially tapped in January by Trump to lead the administration’s coronavirus response, Azar lasted in that role a little over a month before he was replaced by Vice President Mike Pence. 

By April, as the true consequences of the U.S. failure to deploy an effective coronavirus test became clear, Azar again found himself in the crosshairs. 

Late that month, reports emerged that Trump was planning to replace Azar at HHS. This decision was prompted in part by Azar’s mismanagement of vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright, who later filed a damning whistleblower complaint alleging retaliation against him by HHS. At the time, the list of people shortlisted for Azar’s job included White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx or Medicare chief Seema Verma. But Trump denied the reports of Azar’s imminent firing, calling them “fake news.”

-CNBC’s Christina Wilkie contributed to this report.

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