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Heckler Won’t Be ‘Hustled Out,’ Hatch Promised

September 28, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan has promised Sen. Orrin Hatch that Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler will not be ″hustled out″ of office by White House rumors, a Hatch aide said Friday.

The aide, Irene Forde-Howard, said Hatch telephoned Regan after reports in Washington newspapers that Mrs. Heckler was on her way out, possibly through an appointment as ambassador to Ireland.

Regan promised Hatch that Mrs. Heckler would not be ″hustled out,″ Ms. Forde-Howard said. She said Hatch interpreted the statement as squelching the rumor of the ambassador appointment.

Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, is one of Mrs. Heckler’s strongest defenders on Capitol Hill and reportedly was outraged at the unattributed attacks on her.

The reports published this week in The Washington Times and The Washington Post quoted unidentified White House staffers as saying the administration was dissatisfied with Mrs. Heckler’s performance as head of the $330 billion agency.

Neither newspaper specified a reason for Mrs. Heckler’s reported impending departure, other than to say that White House officials are unhappy with her work.

The reports disagreed on whether President Reagan had agreed to replace Mrs. Heckler. One said he had made a final decision; another said he had not.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes denied the reports both Thursday and Friday. He said there had been no discussions at the top levels of the White House about replacing Mrs. Heckler, adding: ″The president has been pleased with her job performance.″

Claire del Real, Mrs. Heckler’s press secretary, also denied the rumors, saying Mrs. Heckler has Reagan’s support.

Mrs. Heckler’s allies note that she has been a staunch defender of Reagan’s policies at HHS while achieving several administration goals for the department.

Those achievements include changes in the Medicare program that HHS says have saved $6 billion while helping to bring medical inflation under control; implementing 80 percent of the Grace commission’s recommendations for cost- cutting; and passage in Congress of new bills to speed the licensing of generic and orphan drugs.

Heckler backers also note that the president has always shown great reluctance to fire loyal supporters, even in cases when they have become major political liabilities.