The Senate on Feb. 15 narrowly confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a regulatory agency that oversees vaccines and drugs.
Dr. Robert Califf, 70, who was FDA commissioner during the Obama administration, was confirmed in a 50-46 vote.
Six Republicans crossed the aisle to support Califf, who was opposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and four other Democrats or independents who caucus with Democrats.
Califf received overwhelming support in 2016, when 89 senators approved his nomination, but many Republicans who previously backed him said they switched their stance because he said he trusted FDA experts who eased restrictions on abortion pills.
“Dr. Califf wants to make dangerous, chemical abortion easier to access, not save lives of moms and babies. He’s not who we need in charge of medication and health safety,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), one of the senators who changed from “yes” six years ago, said in a statement.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Manchin were among those who took issue with how the FDA handled the opioid epidemic while Califf was in charge.
“The FDA is supposed to be our nation’s pharmaceutical gatekeeper, but over many years it repeatedly rubber-stamped new prescription painkillers that increased the risk of misuse and dependence. As evidence of the deadly harm those opioids caused, the FDA did almost nothing,” Markey said on the Senate floor before the vote.
“Even well into the crisis, the FDA continued to approve powerful new opioids,” he added.
But Califf’s backers said he was the right man to fill the post, including Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
“I urge all of my colleagues to give families across the country the peace of mind and the hardworking staff at the FDA the Senate-confirmed leadership it needs,” she said.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the panel, said Califf “is a supremely qualified nominee with bipartisan support” who “has the robust agency and private sector experience needed to help build on the success of the FDA.”
Since leaving the government in 2017, Califf has worked or advised for a number of companies, including Google, Verily, Cytokinetics, Merck, Eli Lilly, and AstraZeneca. Some make vaccines or other drugs that the FDA has cleared or may be asked to clear in the future. He agreed to, if he were confirmed, resign from all his positions for companies regulated by the FDA.
Califf will replace acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, who is transitioning to the post of principal deputy. Califf will be sworn in this week and will assume his post immediately after, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA’s parent agency, told The Epoch Times in an email.
Califf has promised to carry out certain actions after assuming his new post, including reviewing opioids. He must fill a number of vacancies at the agency, including several that arose when top scientists departed in reported protest against the Biden administration’s trend of announcing COVID-19 vaccine developments before the FDA processes had been completed.
Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joined Democrats in voting for Califf.
Besides Manchin and Markey, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined Republicans in voting against the nominee. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) did not vote. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) abstained. He said he would have voted no, but wanted to recognize how Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), who is recovering from a stroke, would have voted yes if present.