Trump’s health chiefs called to White House in fresh bid for truce

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma is in a conflict with HHS secretary Alex Azar. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma have been called to the White House for a meeting with acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, in the latest attempt to quash their escalating feud, according to three individuals with knowledge of the gathering.

It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump will attend the meeting, tentatively planned for Thursday.

Administration officials say Azar and Verma must either pledge to make amends or otherwise resolve a conflict that’s threatening Trump’s health agenda and complicating his reelection prospects. Vice President Mike Pence already met separately with Azar and Verma this month, and Trump had a private meeting with Verma in mid-November.

The sessions have so far failed to defuse an increasingly public battle that Azar and Verma allies fear could cost one or both their jobs. Multiple sources close to the situation told POLITICO in recent days that they worry the relationship between Azar and Verma cannot be salvaged.

CMS referred questions about the Mulvaney meeting to the White House, which didn’t respond to a request for comment. HHS declined to comment.

Friction between two top health officials in an administration isn’t uncommon. But officials familiar with the workings of previous administrations described an atmosphere of discord between Azar and Verma unlike anything seen in recent years. A series of revelations has intensified the feud and drawn in congressional investigators — including POLITICO’s reports that Verma directed millions of dollars toward public relations contractors, some of whom worked to burnish her brand and asked taxpayers to cover the cost of $47,000 in stolen jewelry and other goods that were stolen during a work trip.

Dan Diamond and Nancy Cook contributed to this report.

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