President Reagan said today that he wants to talk to Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler about “something else” he might like her to do but denied that he is going to fire the head of the government’s largest department.
Heckler, who has launched a campaign to save her Cabinet job, sought and was granted a meeting with Reagan later in the day.
Reports have circulated for days that Reagan is about to name her ambassador to Ireland. “That’s a lovely position--for someone else,” Heckler said of the ambassadorship last month.
Reagan, bristling today at published reports that his chief of staff, Donald T. Regan, had won presidential approval to oust the health and human services secretary, told reporters: “There has never been any thought in my mind to fire Margaret Heckler. I don’t know where these stories come from. They are not true.”
But he twice hinted that he may ask her to change jobs.
The fact that he wouldn’t fire her “does not mean I don’t have something else that I would want her to do,” Reagan said as reporters questioned him while he posed for pictures at the beginning of a meeting with King Hussein of Jordan.
‘Something . . . in Mind’
And a short time later, after bidding Hussein farewell, Reagan appeared to confirm that he wanted Heckler to change jobs.
“I want to talk to her,” he said, “about something I’ve had in mind for her.”
Reagan declared himself satisfied with the performance of Heckler, whose management ability and loyalty to conservative principles have been questioned by top Administration officials.
But when asked whether Regan or others have recommended that he find another job for her, the President said: “No more comments.
“I know I can’t shut off the leaks, but you ought to be more astute at recognizing whether the leaks are true or not,” he admonished reporters.
John A. Svahn, head of the White House domestic policy office, is reported to be Heckler’s probable successor. Svahn was her former deputy at HHS.
Did Not Get Along
Svahn and Heckler did not get along at HHS, sources said, and Heckler initially won out in their feuding.
But since then, sources said, Svahn succeeded in enlisting Regan’s support in seeking Heckler’s removal from the Cabinet.
The present ambassador to Ireland is Robert F. Kane, a California businessman and friend of Reagan, who was confirmed in the post in February, 1984. Past ambassadors traditionally have been Irish-American political appointees. Heckler, 54, whose maiden name is O’Shaughnessy, comes from an Irish family.