Senate Narrowly Confirms Biden's FDA Pick

6 Republicans backed Califf in 50-46 vote
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 15, 2022 7:00 PM CST
Senate Narrowly Confirms Biden's FDA Pick
Dr. Robert Califf gathers his documents during a Senate committee hearing in December.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

The Senate narrowly confirmed President Biden’s pick to lead the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, pushing past a thicket of political controversies that threatened to derail what was initially expected to be an easy confirmation. The 50-46 vote means Dr. Robert Califf, a cardiologist and prominent medical researcher, will again lead the powerful regulatory agency, which he briefly headed during the end of the Obama administration, the AP reports. The FDA hasn’t had a permanent leader in more than a year despite playing a central role in the COVID-19 response effort, reviewing the vaccines, drugs, and tests used to fight the pandemic.

The razor-thin vote underscores the increasing political polarization around the health care issues FDA oversees and contrasts with Califf’s overwhelming support just six years ago. The Senate previously confirmed him to the job by a vote of 89-4. Califf now inherits a raft of reviews and decisions pending at the agency, which regulates several multibillion-dollar industries, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, medical devices, tobacco products and most foods. Califf’s to-do list also includes specific commitments he’s made to Senate lawmakers to clinch the job. In particular, he has vowed to quickly launch a comprehensive review of opioid painkillers like OxyContin, which helped trigger the worst drug epidemic in US history after their FDA approval in the 1990s.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin urged senators to oppose Califf, saying he bears "a great deal of responsibility" for many of the drug overdose deaths that have occurred in the years since his first stint as FDA commissioner. Anti-abortion groups outraged by a recent FDA decision that eased access to abortion pills also campaigned to sink Califf's Senate vote. In the end, six Republicans joined with all but five Democrats in voting to confirm Califf. Republican Sen. Richard Bur advocated for Califf on the Senate floor, saying he has the "robust agency and private sector experience needed to help build on the success of the FDA in helping Americans get back to normal life with the approval of tests, vaccines, and therapeutics that are bringing the pandemic to an end." (Read more FDA stories.)

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