President Donald Trump’s top two health officials have been called to a White House meeting Wednesday evening with acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in the latest attempt to quash their escalating feud, according to four individuals with knowledge of the gathering.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma were originally planning to meet with Mulvaney on Thursday, and it’s not clear why the meeting has been moved up or if Trump will attend.
Administration officials say Azar and Verma must pledge to end a feud that’s threatening Trump’s health agenda ahead of his reelection campaign. Their allies fear failure to resolve the increasingly public battle could cost one or both their jobs.
Vice President Mike Pence already met separately with Azar and Verma this month, and Trump had a private meeting with Verma in mid-November. Those sessions, however, have failed to defuse tensions, and multiple sources close to the situation told POLITICO this week they worry the working relationship cannot be salvaged.
CMS referred questions about the Mulvaney meeting to the White House, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. HHS declined to comment.
Friction between the top two health appointees isn’t uncommon. Though CMS is under the health department, the $1 trillion agency oversees Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, giving its administrator a powerful perch. However, officials familiar with the workings of previous administrations described an atmosphere of discord between Azar and Verma unlike anything seen in recent years.
Azar has tried to sideline Verma from health department business, including policy rollouts and personnel decisions. A series of revelations about Verma’s stewardship of taxpayer funds has also intensified the feud and drawn interest from congressional investigators.
House Democrats and a health department auditor are probing POLITICO’s reports that Verma directed millions of dollars toward public relations contractors, including some of whom worked to burnish her brand. POLITICO also reported this weekend that Verma asked taxpayers to cover the cost of $47,000 in stolen jewelry and other goods that were stolen during a work trip.
Dan Diamond and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.
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