Califf advances in FDA chief nomination process but committee vote indicates he's no slam-dunk choice

Robert Califf has advanced in his confirmation process to become the FDA commissioner. But the Senate committee vote indicates Califf’s nomination for his second FDA tenure will be anything but a slam dunk.   

The Senate Committee on Health approved Califf's nomination by a 13-8 vote, with some dissenting votes coming from those who have concerns over his handling of the opioid crisis when he served at the FDA during the Obama administration.

He was appointed deputy commissioner in February 2015 and was nominated for the agency's top post seven months later, a role in which he served from February 2016 to January 2017. For that stint, Califf passed the full Senate by a vote of 89-4.

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Thursday’s committee nod wasn’t nearly as resounding. Democratic committee member Sen. Maggie Hassan (NH) and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) voted against Califf, while other non-committee Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) and Sen. Ed Markey (MA) voiced opposition.

Sanders cited Califf’s “revolving door” journey from private industry to the FDA. The nominee was recently employed as a strategist with Alphabet's Verily. Before his time with the FDA, he worked at the Duke University Medical School, leading many clinical trials.

Four Republicans voted for Califf, including Sen. Richard Burr (NC) who urged for Califf’s nomination considering the post has been vacant for nearly a year. Burr also touted Califf’s “unparalleled experience” and his support for medial innovation. He was joined in his support of Califf by committee Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Mitt Romney (UT).

One of the Republicans who voted against Califf’s nomination, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (AL), explained that he believed Califf would “continue to advance this administration’s pro-abortion agenda.” Republican Sen. Mike Braun (IN) expressed similar sentiments.

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In Califf’s first nomination vote, Markey was one of the four who didn’t approve. On Thursday he explained why in an open letter to acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock, which referred to a meeting Markey had last month with the nominee.

“Dr. Califf did not commit to the decisive and comprehensive action necessary to ensure reforms that the FDA, under his leadership, would implement on opioid regulation," Markey wrote. "After years of agency failures and in the midst of a worsening opioid epidemic, we need FDA leadership that is fully committed to utilizing the agency’s full oversight authority to protect public health."