The nomination of Dr. Robert Califf to lead the FDA will move to a vote in the full Senate after being advanced by a Senate committee today. But while Califf sailed through confirmation in his previous stint as FDA commissioner, he may be in for a fight this time.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-8 to recommend President Biden’s nominee to the full Senate. The vote margin, however, was closer than expected, which could signal trouble in the final Senate vote.
Democrats Bernie Sanders and Maggie Hassan joined six Republicans in voting against Califf. Sanders has been outspoken in his opposition to Califf, who he says epitomizes the FDA-to-pharma revolving door. Four other Republicans—Richard Burr, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney—supported Califf’s nomination, along with nine Democrats.
In Califf’s 2016 full Senate vote, only four Senators voted against his nomination, and just one Republican. This year significant opposition to Califf from anti-abortion groups could change that, pushing many more Republicans to oppose the Biden nominee. That along with opposition from several Democrats—mostly based on concern over the FDA’s response to the opioid crisis and the nominee’s industry ties—could mean a close vote for Califf.
Several Democrats—including Sanders, Hassan, Joe Manchin, Richard Blumenthal, and Edwatd Markey—have already declared themselves no votes for Califf.
Califf served as FDA commissioner during President Obama’s last year in office, presiding over the agency’s 2016 rollout of the Deeming Rule, which gave FDA authority over e-cigarettes. Califf has generally opposed vaping as a harm reduction tool for people who smoke, and supports banning all flavored vaping products.