The Senate narrowly approved Dr. Robert Califf as Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, a vital government agency that has been without a permanent director for more than a year due to the coronavirus outbreak. Califf is the first physician to hold the position.
The result was 50 to 46, with six Republican senators crossing the aisle to support him and five senators who caucus with Democrats voting against him in the process. One senator abstained from voting.
Over the last several weeks, Dr. Califf’s chances of being confirmed for a second term have become more remote as questions about how he would deal to the opioid crisis and how the agency handled abortion medication regulations have become louder in the public arena. With the help of major medical groups and a bipartisan group of former Food and Drug Administration commissioners, the White House attempted to mobilise support for Dr. Califf in Congress and among other supporters.
Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, was one of a small group of Republican senators who endorsed Dr. Califf and helped to mitigate some Democratic resistance to his nomination. On Tuesday, Mr. Burr called on other senators to support Dr. Califf’s confirmation, claiming that the Food and Drug Administration had been without a permanent administrator for 391 days.
The senators from both parties posed formidable opposition to him, even with some Republican support. They ranged from liberal Democrats who were wary of his ties to the pharmaceutical industry to conservative Republicans who were in lock step with the anti-abortion movement in their opposition to him.
Dr. Califf, on the other hand, was easily elected to the position of commissioner in 2016 by a vote of 89 to 4, with widespread support from both political parties. Since President Biden nominated him in November, he has encountered opposition from some of the same Democrats who stood against him six years ago. Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from West Virginia, expressed worries about Dr. Califf’s links to the pharmaceutical business at the time, which coincided with the outbreak of the opioid crisis, which had already claimed thousands of lives by 2016.
The F.D.A.’s involvement in becoming the “country’s top pill pusher,” according to Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was condemned just before the vote on Tuesday. He also claimed that Dr. Califf did nothing to address the issue during his previous tenure as commissioner.
Dr. Califf was also under fire from abortion opponents for the Food and Drug Administration’s risk-management protocols for abortion drugs. In response to changes made under Dr. Califf’s previous time as commissioner that made it easier to get medical abortion pills, the prominent Susan B. Anthony List group, which opposes abortion, has polled legislators on the issue.
Dr. Califf voiced confidence in the agency’s capacity to manage medicine choices again at a Senate hearing in December. Two days after the hearing, the Food and Drug Administration stated that women may obtain the medications by mail after a telemedicine consultation, removing the need for an in-person examination of their condition.
In a statement, the Susan B. Anthony List said that it will “score” the vote on Dr. Califf’s nomination, indicating that it would be taken into account in the organization’s judgments of politicians’ “pro-life scorecard.” Republicans who are up for re-election often seek the group’s support.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, came out against the bill before the vote, denouncing Dr. Califf’s participation in the alterations to abortion medicine.
Ms. Manchin, along with Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who are members of the Democratic caucus, were among those who spoke out against the nomination.
Following the confirmation votes, a number of organisations and individuals published comments calling for action on a range of topics. Doctor Califf was urged to eliminate PFAS, sometimes known as “forever chemicals,” from food packaging and to mandate that firms that sell talc test their goods for asbestos, as demanded by the Environmental Working Group.
Representative Rajna Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, has called on Dr. Califf to respond to findings by a House panel that arsenic and lead were found in infant food. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, requested Dr. Califf to address the “predatory practises” used by vaping firms to attract young people. Dr. Califf responded positively.
For the most of his professional life, Dr. Califf worked at Duke University, where he served as an associate professor of medicine and the institution’s inaugural director of clinical research. He was the principal investigator in a number of cardiac clinical studies, got valuable experience dealing with the pharmaceutical business, and garnered great recognition in the medical community.