The Aspen Institute announced former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has joined its Health Strategy Group to “develop health policy solutions for challenges facing the U.S.,” a questionable choice given his epic fumbling of the COVID-19 pandemic response 

Azar was central to the Trump administration’s failure to respond to COVID-19 and reportedly retaliated against a whistleblower

Azar also played a key role in Trump’s cruel policies, including family separations at the border and revoking health care protections for LBGTQ patients

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In light of the recent news that the nonpartisan Aspen Institute has enlisted former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to its Health Strategy Group, the Campaign Against Corporate Complicity released the following statement. 

“Alex Azar was a critical player in both the Trump administration’s bungling of COVID-19 response that resulted in the loss of half a million lives and the horrific family separation policy that ripped children from their families — a policy that the Aspen Institute came out against. So it’s baffling that the Aspen Institute would reward such incompetence and cruelty with a coveted role in their Health Strategy Group. If the Aspen Institute cares about its reputation, they need to cut ties with this disgraced former Secretary immediately,” said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US. 

The Aspen Institute should be studying Secretary Azar’s failures rather than inviting him to join its ranks. Alex Azar was the Trump administration’s top health official as it pursued a campaign of disinformation and denial, and with hundreds of thousands dead on his watch, it’s not clear what ‘health policy solutions’ he could offer,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. 

As one of the country’s top health officials, Azar played a central role in the Trump administration’s botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other failures, Azar parroted Trump’s misinformation about treating the virus with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine despite a lack of scientific evidence, refused to take responsibility for the administration’s early failures to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, and kept COVID-19 threat meetings classified. 

Azar was also involved in and oversaw key aspects of the Trump administration’s deliberately cruel family separation policy. Records show that Azar was one of the senior Trump officials invited to White House meeting at which a vote was taken to enact the “zero tolerance” policy. Under that policy, migrant children separated at the U.S. border were transferred to facilities supervised by HHS, without an adequate system for tracking families who had been separated. In the months before it began, officials within HHS had raised alarms about the potential harm such a policy could cause.  He also pushed through a rule in the final days of the Trump administration revoking LGBTQ protections in health care and other social services in what was described as a “nasty parting shot.”

Earlier this year, Accountable.US and American Oversight launched the Campaign Against Corporate Complicity, which seeks to prevent normalizing the cruel and undemocratic actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration by ensuring that employers scrutinize former officials looking to sell their government experience as a qualification rather than a disgrace. 

Azar’s track record at HHS underscores why no reputable organization should want to be associated with him. Learn more below:

  • Azar was invited to White House meeting that voted to enact family separation. [NBC News, 8/20/20]
  • A National Institute of Health employee filed a complaint that Secretary Azar had retaliated against him for whistleblowing about the failures of the government’s coronavirus response. [Politico, 06/25/20]
  • At the behest of the White House, the HHS under Azar took actions to keep COVID-19 threat meetings classified, which included restricted access to public health officials who needed information about the outbreak. [Reuters, 03/11/20]
  • On their way out of office, Azar’s HHS pushed through a rule that permitted government-funded social-service providers to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity on issues ranging from child adoption, foster parenting, aid to the homeless, elder care, and other public services. [NBC News, 1/12/21

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