Wednesday’s vote of 55-43 ends the speculation.
An attorney, Azar, 50, will take over the huge department, with its budget of more than $1.1 trillion. No stranger to the government’s largest domestic agency, he held senior roles during the tenure of George W. Bush.
Before the vote, leading GOP senators praised Azar for his expertise. “I can think of very few others as qualified to take the helm of this very large ship,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which conducted his confirmation hearing and advanced his nomination a week ago. Hatch is quoted in The Washington Post:
With experience both on the company side and the government side of health care, he is now only more experienced and knowledgeable.
There was dissent. Immediately before the vote, the Finance Committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), accused Azar of pushing up drug prices while he led Lilly’s U.S. subsidiary. And contending that the administration has pursued “a health-care agenda of discrimination” against LGBT Americans and women, Wyden said:
When you review the record . . . there is not a shred of evidence Azar is going to try to stop it, reform it or in any way try to make sure those Americans, all of them, get a fair shake.
He is expected to be sworn in Thursday or Friday.
Read more about challenges he will face in The Washington Post
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was the lone Republican to vote against his confirmation, after having previously expressed concern over Azar’s reticence to let drugs be imported from overseas.
Azar will take the helm of the massive department at a critical time for the Affordable Care Act. It’s unlikely congressional Republicans will return to the task of repealing and replacing President Obama’s signature health-care law, leaving the White House to seek changes on its own through administrative action.
Read more of the hopes and fears about Azar in The Hill.