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HHS Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wrote a memo this week giving him authority over all new rules and banning any of the health agencies, including the FDA, from signing any new rules "regarding the nation’s foods, medicines, medical devices and other products," the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The story further underscores reporting that health and scientific agencies are undergoing a deep politicization as the Trump administration races to develop a coronavirus vaccine, as Axios' Caitlin Owens has reported. Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner of the FDA, told the Times that the Azar memo amounted to a "power grab."

What they're saying: Brian Harrison, Azar's chief of staff, said the changes were simply a "housekeeping matter."

  • "This good governance, housekeeping action, which should have no operational impact because all rules already required departmental clearance, will prevent potential future abuse of authority and is clearly consistent with congressional intent," Harrison said.
  • "This has nothing to do with guidances or any vaccine, drug, or therapeutic approval. Assertions that this was aimed at any specific division or leader are dishonest or uninformed."

Other outside experts believe that the memo could further hinder scientific voices. The CDC this week reversed course on a controversial policy concerning coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people, which was reportedly posted to the agency's website over the objections of scientists.

Go deeper: Trump contradicts CDC chief on when vaccine will be widely available

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove references to vaccines, which do not go through the rule-making process.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 31, 2020 - Health

California reports first case of new coronavirus variant

Healthcare workers treating a patient in UCLA Medical Center in Torrence, California, on Dec. 29. Photo: Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California reported its first case of a new variant of the coronavirus that may be more transmissible, AP reports.

The big picture: California is the second state to document a confirmed case of the variant — which originated in the United Kingdom — after Colorado reported the first case in the United States on Tuesday.

Most teachers are white. Most students aren't.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The nation's 6.6 million teacher workforce has grown more racially and ethnically diverse over the past three decades — but not nearly fast enough to keep pace with a student population that's nearing majority-minority in public schools, two new reports show.

Why it matters: The disparities are especially acute between Hispanic students and teachers, and in schools with 90% or higher non-white student populations.

Updated 11 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

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