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Scoop: Trump told Azar he regrets involvement in vaping policy

Trump and HHS Sec. Alex Azar. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump told his health secretary yesterday that he regrets getting involved in the administration's policy on vaping, according to two sources familiar with the conversation. "I should never have done that f***ing vaping thing," Trump said during an impromptu call on speakerphone in an Oval Office meeting.

Why it matters: The administration's ban on flavored vapes is one of its most prominent health policy decisions, but trying to find a compromise between public health groups and the pro-vaping community caused massive political headaches.

Behind the scenes: Trump decided to call Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a campaign meeting, while discussing health care with his political team. He sometimes does that with cabinet secretaries, in an impromptu fashion, during meetings when their issues come up.

  • Azar got defensive after Trump expressed regret for the vaping policy, per a source familiar.
  • Both sources familiar with the conversation said Trump wasn't expressing regret for the specific vaping policy outcome, which the team believes is the right one, but rather for personally wading into vaping and e-cigarette policy in the first place rather than leaving it up to the Food and Drug Administration.

Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio was talking during the meeting about health care as a 2020 issue, including the importance of protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

  • Trump also ribbed Azar over drug prices, per two sources familiar, asking him, "When are you gonna get these drug prices lower?" and pressing him to "hurry up" on rules that would let people import cheaper drugs from Canada.
  • One source described Trump's tone as "play bantering." The New York Times' Maggie Haberman was the first to report the call between Azar and the president.

What they're saying: "President Trump has said this Administration will protect people with pre-existing conditions, lower drug prices even further, end surprise medical bills, and make sure Americans get the highest quality of care they deserve," White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

  • "There’s no daylight between the White House and HHS as we work to implement the President’s policies and improve the American healthcare system for everyone, not just those in the individual market," he added.
  • HHS declined to comment on the meeting.

Reality check: The administration hasn't accomplished much on health care. Congress did not repeal the Affordable Care Act — Trump's top priority — and it did not address surprise medical bills, either. The administration has done very little on drug prices, and is urging the courts to throw out protections for pre-existing conditions.

Go deeper: Trump's smoke-and-mirrors 2020 health care strategy