Health and Science

Health Secretary Azar tells Trump U.S. Capitol attack was assault on democracy that tarnishes legacy

Key Points
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in a letter dated Jan. 12, said he will not step down until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office.
  • Azar said he wants to ensure a smooth transition during the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
  • He took a parting shot at President Donald Trump and condemned the U.S. Capitol riots as an assault on democracy.
  • Azar wrote that "the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during the past week, threaten to tarnish" the legacies of this administration.
Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar at the White House on August 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Pete Marovich | Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has told President Donald Trump that he will not step down until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office to help ensure a smooth transition in the wake of the pro-Trump mob attack on the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead.

There had been speculation Azar might not finish out Trump's term after he condemned the attack on the Capitol as it was taking place. But Azar, in a letter dated Jan. 12, said he believed it was in "the best interest of the people" to remain in office until Biden is inaugurated.

Azar, in a subsequent Twitter post, said every political appointee in the administration had to hand in their resignation letters last Tuesday. Those letters are effective at noon on Jan. 20, he said.

His decision to remain until the final hours of Trump's term comes as the nation is struggling to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations which have fallen far behind the federal government's targets.

Azar took a parting shot at Trump in the letter, writing that "the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during the past week, threaten to tarnish" the legacies of this administration.

"The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power that the United States first brought to the world," Azar wrote.

Azar's decision comes after U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and several other Trump administration officials resigned after the president was accused of inciting the violence by directing protesters to head to the U.S. Capitol where lawmakers were finalizing Biden's win. The mob descended on the Capitol building on Jan. 6 shortly after proceedings began to count the Electoral College votes and confirm Biden's election.

"With the pandemic raging, the continued need to deliver vaccines and therapeutics to the American people, and the imperative of ensuring a smooth transition to the Biden Administration, I have determined that it is in the best interest of the people we serve to remain as Secretary until the end of the term," Azar said in his letter addressed to Trump.

"I Implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021."

In a tweet last week, Azar condemned the riot, saying he was "disgusted."

"Physical violence and the desecration of this hallowed symbol of our democracy must end. People must immediately and peacefully disperse," he said on Twitter.

Trump selected Azar, a former pharmaceutical executive, to head the U.S. agency in late 2017, replacing Trump's first HHS chief, Dr. Tom Price. His department is responsible for overseeing the sprawling Medicare and Medicaid programs as well as U.S. public health, medical research and the safety of food and drugs. He's been an integral figure in the administration's Covid-19 response.

Prior to his role, Azar served as the department's general counsel from 2001 to 2005 and deputy secretary from 2005 to 2007. From 2012 to 2017, he was president of Lilly USA, the American arm of drug giant Eli Lilly.

Azar's resignation comes amid a once-in-a-century pandemic. The U.S. currently has more than 23.33 million coronavirus cases and has recorded the most virus deaths by a wide margin, with more than 389,000 confirmed fatalities so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Federal and state officials are racing to distribute vaccines to prevent Covid-19 and bring an end to the pandemic.

President-elect Joe Biden discusses details of his vaccination plan

Azar highlighted his efforts to lead his department during what he described as an "unprecedented pandemic" and hailed the rapid development of two vaccines. However, the administration of those vaccines has not kept pace with the Trump administration's goals.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to build coronavirus vaccine clinics across the United States, according to new details of his Covid-19 vaccination plan released by his transition team on Friday.

Read Azar's full letter below:

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.