The Senate narrowly confirmed Dr. Robert Califf to head the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday after the agency operated without a permanent leader for more than a year, The New York Times reports.
Califf was confirmed in a 50-46 vote, with six Republicans voting in support and five Democrats voting in opposition. One Republican also voted present to pair with New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Lujan, who is recovering from a stroke.
Carliff now faces key decisions as he expects to be sworn in this week, including how to handle Covid vaccines for children under five and whether e-cigarette companies will be allowed to stay on the market.
Califf’s nomination looked in doubt for weeks as Democrats raised concerns about his ties to the pharmaceutical industry while Republicans questioned how he would handle abortion issues.
Califf previously served as the FDA chief under President Obama, having been approved in a much easier 89-4 vote.
Five Democrats opposed Cardiff’s nomination, including Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who criticized the FDA for becoming the “country’s biggest pill pusher” and said Califf did little about the opioid epidemic in his last stint.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin slammed Califf for overseeing an FDA that approved five new opioids in two years.
“I have never been more profoundly confident of a vote I’m going to cast than I am right now,” Manchin said, arguing that he would “send a message to this administration, to our president, that we need a new direction at the F.D.A.”
“We need people who want to protect us,” he said, “not people who allow drugs to destroy us.”
GOP focuses on abortion:
Much of the Republican opposition was driven by abortion issues after the FDA during Califf’s last tenure eased access to medication abortion pills.
The FDA prior to Califf’s confirmation announced that it would eliminate a requirement for women to undergo an in-person evaluation to receive the pills.
“Dr. Califf has refused to distance himself from the F.D.A. decision to abandon vulnerable pregnant women to the reckless and predatory actions of the abortion industry,” said Montana Republican Steve Daines.