WASHINGTON — President Trump has his good list, and he has his bad list.
More than most presidents, the mercurial and bombastic Trump is quick to criticize the officials he’s appointed to top administration posts. He called Attorney General Jeff Sessions an “idiot” to his face. He told former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross his “understanding of trade is terrible.” And he suggested he could beat Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in an IQ test.
But at a dinner with European business leaders at the glitzy World Economic Forum on Thursday night, Trump had only praise for Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, one of the administration officials to accompany the president to Davos.
“Scott Gottlieb, as you know, is a star,” he said.
Trump was speaking to incoming Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan, who kicked off the adoration for Gottlieb — and followed several other business leaders who spent at least the part of dinner open to the press praising Trump and his administration.
“We’re really pleased with the tax reform, but also very pleased with the great progress being made at FDA. We believe you have a great leadership team there and they’re doing all the right things to accelerate innovation,” Narasimhan said, according to a White House transcript.
Trump took the chance to praise Alex Azar, too, saying the newly confirmed health and human services secretary is “well-respected.” The remarks were a strong contrast to Trump’s final comments on former HHS secretary Tom Price, who resigned amid a scandal over his reliance on taxpayer-funded private jets for personal travel. Then, Trump said publicly he was “not happy” with Price and speculated about demanding his resignation.
While many other agencies have been plagued with scandal, Gottlieb has rocketed to the top of the FDA, spearheading an effort to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, going after drug companies for their “shenanigans,” and taking on the mantle of the opioid crisis.
His agency releases press releases at breakneck speed and he even exchanges puns on Twitter with journalists, taking on high drug pricing and the opioid companies. His agency approved more than 1,000 generic drugs in 2017, more in a single year than ever before.
While other administrators have drawn critique from within and without the administration, Gottlieb has earned praise even from the staunchest of Democrats.
“He’s been a real bright spot in the administration,” former CMS administrator Andy Slavitt told STAT in September.