White House officials are reportedly discussing replacing the health secretary over his botched coronavirus response

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donald trump alex azar
President Donald Trump listens as Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, Friday, March 20, 2020, in Washington.

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

  • White House officials are reportedly weighing plans to replace Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

  • President Donald Trump has criticized Azar's handling of the coronavirus response, and Azar has reportedly complained that Trump did not take his warnings seriously.

  • Politico reported that a number of names have been floated as a potential replacement, including Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator.

  • Both the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services dismissed the reports as "speculation" or "palace intrigue."

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

White House officials are discussing plans to replace the Health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, multiple media outlets reported Saturday evening.

Politico, citing four people familiar with the matter, reported that a number of names have been floated as a potential replacement, including Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator.

Also reportedly on the list are the deputy HHS secretary, Eric Hargan, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The talks come after Azar's botched early handling of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing six sources familiar with the discussions.

White House and HHS representatives denied the reports.

"Secretary Azar is busy responding to a global, public health crisis and doesn't have time for palace intrigue," an HHS spokeswoman told The Journal.

White House spokesman Judd Deere told the newspaper "any speculation about personnel is irresponsible and a distraction from our whole-of-government response to COVID-19."

Azar's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has triggered criticism, particularly his decision to wait several weeks to brief President Donald Trump about the severity of the threat.

Trump, himself, has publicly complained about Azar, even tweeting on April 12 that he "told me nothing until later." 

Azar, in turn, has complained that Trump did not take his coronavirus warnings seriously, and believed Azar was an "alarmist," according to The Washington Post.

In late February, Azar was removed from his post as the head of the White House's coronavirus response, and replaced with Vice President Mike Pence.

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