The U.S. Senate’s health panel today approved President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the FDA, cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf, after members shrugged off criticism from consumer watchdogs about Califf’s ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee voted to confirm Califf, whom Obama nominated in September 2015. A cardiologist and longtime Duke University researcher, Califf joined the FDA as a deputy commissioner in January 2015. The panel’s decision sets up a vote in the full Senate, which is widely expected to confirm his appointment.
Although he’s won praise from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health panel, Califf has drawn criticism from the left for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Today Alexander urged his colleagues speed Calif”s appointment through the Upper Chamber.
“The FDA affects the lives of nearly every single American and regulates about a quarter of all consumer spending in the United States – over $4 trillion annually. Americans need competent leadership to head this significant agency and to help bring safe drugs and devices to market faster and protect our nation’s food supply. The Senate should consider Dr. Califf’s nomination quickly to fill this important role,” Alexander said in prepared remarks.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running as a Democratic presidential candidate, cast a “nay” vote by proxy, saying in a statement that the FDA needs a leader “who is prepared to stand up to the drug companies” and that Califf is not that person.
“His extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans, rather than pharmaceutical industry CEOs who are more focused on making obscene profits than saving lives,” Sanders said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska) voted “yea,” but repeated a threat to oppose Califf’s nomination on the full Senate floor if the FDA doesn’t pledge to mandate the labeling of recently approved genetically engineered salmon.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.