Alex Azar and Seema Verma are Beefing So Hard, Donald Trump and Mike Pence Came to Referee

Image: Associated Press

It’s a given that the Trump administration is stuffed with assholes with outlandishly oversized egos: Water is wet, am I right? But sometimes, these idiots clash in a battle to determine who’s the biggest, pettiest dick—which brings us to the epic beef between Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator Seema Verma, one that has escalated to the point that even Donald Trump and Mike Pence have been forced to intervene in an effort to end the squabbling. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has called the two into his office for a stern lecture scheduled for Thursday. Can’t have the kids fighting when you’re trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid, after all!

According to Politico, which has extensively covered the months-long brawl, the two have clashed over the best way to gut the ACA, “delaying the president’s long-promised replacement proposal for Obamacare.” Verma also helped kill a plan much-touted by Azar that would have eliminated some drug rebates when she shit-talked his idea in a meeting with Trump and other officials.

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More from Politico on their policy beef:

Verma spent about six months developing a Trump administration alternative to the Affordable Care Act, only to have Azar nix the proposal before it could be presented to Trump this summer, sending the administration back to the drawing board, senior officials told POLITICO. Azar believed Verma’s plan would actually strengthen Obamacare, not kill it.

But I sense that this beef is, at its heart, a personal one. Both Azar and Verma lived in Indianapolis before decamping to D.C. to join the administration, and their children even attended the same school. As Politico delicately put it, “despite their overlapping connections, the two are not personally close, officials said.” There’s a whole universe to unpack in that sentence. Is this a Big Little Lies situation? Imagine the PTA drama!

And now the beef has become extremely petty:

This fall, Azar blocked Verma from traveling with Trump on Air Force One from Washington to Florida in early October for the unveiling of a high-profile Medicare executive order — an initiative largely drawn up by Verma’s agency — said six officials with knowledge of the episode, which played out over days. Only after Verma complained to White House staff was she allowed on Trump’s plane, according to seven people familiar with the situation. HHS disputed the account, saying that the White House had identified space limitations on the plane.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, HHS officials may also have been behind some news stories critical of Verma’s hiring of outside Republican communications consultants to boost her profile, spending several million dollars despite CMS having a fairly robust communications department. Verma, for her part, has lobbed charges of sex discrimination against HHS and Azar over the delay in hiring her personal choice for chief of staff, Brady Brookes, a former aide to Mike Pence. More, from Axios:

Verma wanted to name Brady Brookes, who was the deputy chief of staff at CMS, as chief of staff. But But Azar’s office said that they wanted another candidate — who is also a woman — to also be considered. This candidate had more experience and had spent more time at CMS headquarters. Brookes ended up getting the job.

Verma then told two people that she could file suit for sex discrimination if Brookes wasn’t chosen as the chief of staff. Verma added that she herself could be a party to that litigation.

In the same week, she told a third person that the decision to not immediately name Brookes as chief of staff borders on outright discrimination.

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Yikes!

But the wonderful side effect of all of this fighting is that it has derailed some of their efforts to kill programs like the ACA. It would be best for all of us—and specifically for the millions of people who rely on Medicaid, Medicare, and the ACA for health care coverage—if Verma and Azar continue to fight. Let the beefing continue!

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About the author

Esther Wang

Senior staff writer, Jezebel