There was a noticeable absence on stage Wednesday when members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force gave a press conference: Health Secretary Alexander Azar.
According to Politico, that wasn’t an accident: Vice President Mike Pence asked Azar not to attend the briefing. A spokesperson for Pence told Politico, in the publication’s words, that “officials wanted to make room on stage for Ben Carson,” the Housing secretary. A spokesperson for Azar said simply that the task force members would be “rotating through as necessary” in the group’s daily briefings.
At first, Azar was the top Trump administration official leading the White House’s task force. Then, at a press conference last week, Trump said Vice President Mike Pence would be leading the effort — reportedly to Azar’s surprise. Pence has since brought on Dr. Deborah Birx, an AIDS expert, as another point person.
During the briefing Wednesday, in which various task force members commented on the state of the public health crisis, Pence did most of the talking.
Carson, a famed neurosurgeon before his career in conservative politics, spoke only briefly. He praised the task force’s work, emphasized that the risk posed by the virus to a healthy adult “still remains quite low,” and gave a shout out to the pharmaceutical industry.
“The pharmaceuticals, who normally are rivals, have worked together voluntarily,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be a great lesson to the politicians.”
Azar also didn’t accompany Vice President Mike Pence Thursday when Pence traveled to Minnesota and Washington state, the latter of which is home to dozens of confirmed coronavirus cases. Instead, Azar and others briefed legislators and spoke to members of the media, at times fielding intense questions about the administration’s lack of preparation for the outbreak.