Voting mostly along party lines, the US Senate has confirmed former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be the nation’s assistant secretary of health. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation. The final vote Wednesday was 52-48. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine joined all Democrats in supporting Levine, the AP reports. Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017, and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programs across the US. President Biden cited Levine’s experience when he nominated her in January.
Transgender-rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough. Few trans people have ever held high-level offices at the federal or state level. However, the confirmation vote came at a challenging moment for the transgender-rights movement as legislatures across the US—primarily those under Republican control—are considering an unprecedented wave of bills targeting young trans people. The confirmation vote was assailed by the conservative Family Research Council, which contended that Levine, in addition to her stance on transgender medical care, had supported “a variety of pro-abortion and anti-religious freedom proposals” while serving as Pennsylvania's health secretary. “Levine may be the most extreme radical ever confirmed by the Senate," said a council VP. (Levine has also been targeted by a private cops' Facebook group.)