Azar says HHS reviewing $300M pandemic advert marketing campaign amid scrutiny


Democratic lawmakers have accused the administration of raiding public well being funds to launch a “propaganda” marketing campaign weeks out from the presidential election. They are saying the cash can be higher served addressing private protecting tools shortages or serving to distribute an eventual coronavirus vaccine. On Thursday, lawmakers broadened their investigation to find out whether or not contracts are being steered to folks with ties to HHS spokesperson Michael Caputo, who oversaw the marketing campaign earlier than taking medical depart final month.

Azar was making his first look earlier than a congressional committee since February, and it got here simply hours after President Donald Trump introduced he examined optimistic for the coronavirus. He repeatedly dodged questions from Democratic lawmakers, who did not pin him down on allegations of political interference inside numerous well being businesses.

Azar additionally refused to straight reply whether or not Trump had requested well being officers to decelerate coronavirus testing, because the president claimed throughout a marketing campaign rally this summer season. White Home officers later downplayed Trump’s feedback.

“I can’t talk about my interactions or conversations with the president,” Azar mentioned.

Democratic lawmakers did not press the problem additional. Different high administration well being officers, together with infectious illness skilled Anthony Fauci, testified this summer season that they have been by no means requested to decelerate testing.

Azar additionally dismissed experiences that political appointees sought to change and delay CDC steerage to keep away from contradicting Trump’s rosier outlook on the pandemic. When pressed on the problem, Azar mentioned he “didn’t assist” statements from Caputo’s former scientific adviser Paul Alexander declaring that CDC should clear communications by him first.

Nevertheless, POLITICO and different shops reported that Trump appointees bypassed company specialists, together with on controversial steerage on testing asymptomatic folks that was later reversed following public uproar. In the end, Azar mentioned, company Director Robert Redfield has ultimate say on what his company publishes.

“On the finish of the day, the CDC director should agree with it or it doesn’t exit,” Azar mentioned.

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