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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.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.

Bush labels Clyburn the “savior” for Democrats

House Majority Whip James Clyburn takes a selfie Wednesday with former President George W. Bush. Photo: Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush credited Rep. James Clyburn with being the "savior" of the Democratic Party, telling the South Carolinian at Wednesday's inauguration his endorsement allowed Joe Biden to win the party's presidential nomination.

Why it matters: The nation's last two-term Republican president also said Clyburn's nod allowed for the transfer of power, because he felt only Biden had the ability to unseat President Trump.

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