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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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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.

Updated 49 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Second senior Matt Gaetz aide resigns amid federal investigation

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) walking out of the Capitol in January 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Devin Murphy, Rep. Matt Gaetz's legislative director, has stepped down amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida Republican congressman, the New York Times first reported and Axios has confirmed.

The latest: "It's been real," Murphy wrote in an email, obtained by Axios, to Republican legislative directors on Saturday morning, with the subject line: "Well...bye."

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