WASHINGTON — Almost a dozen Democratic senators aren’t but keen to publicly assist President Biden’s Meals and Drug Administration choose, Robert Califf, regardless of his crusing by way of a key well being committee vote earlier this month.
It’s a stunning stage of uncertainty for Califf, who earned nearly unanimous assist when he was confirmed to guide the identical company in 2016.
And it’s stunning, too, given the ability that the FDA has to form the response to the Covid-19 pandemic — a response for which Biden is more and more being criticized. The FDA, which is liable for evaluating the security of Covid-19 exams, vaccines, and therapeutics, has been with no Senate-confirmed chief for greater than a 12 months.
The variety of undecided Democrats, particularly these with coverage considerations, is the clearest signal but that Califf’s nomination is in critical peril. The Senate’s 50-50 break up means Califf wants the assist of the complete Democratic celebration, or barring that, sufficient Republican assist to eke out a majority. Already, 4 Democrats have publicly opposed Califf’s nomination, and a fifth has flagged critical considerations. Almost each different Biden nominee has finally obtained unanimous assist from Democrats.
Two of ten Democratic senators who spoke with STAT briefly on Monday mentioned they’d questions Califf must reply earlier than he might earn their assist. Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), a longtime backer of biomedical analysis, instructed STAT he was nonetheless deciding how he would vote and that he can be assembly with Califf later this week. Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) additionally instructed STAT that though he spoke with Califf on Monday, he had excellent questions for the nominee. He declined to checklist them, however balked when STAT described him aloud as “undecided.”
One other seven — Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Tom Carper (Del.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Patrick Leahy (Vt.) — mentioned they haven’t determined, or hadn’t thought of it sufficient to decide. Califf was formally nominated in November.
Sen. Chris Coons (Del.) additionally mentioned he had not selected how he would vote however that he was “inclined to vote for the president’s nominee.” Coons mentioned he had not met with Califf.
There was some potential excellent news for Califf’s potential affirmation, too: Some Republicans, regardless of intense stress from anti-abortion teams, nonetheless appear open to his nomination.
The Biden administration has lengthy been hoping that it will possibly use Republican assist to offset defections within the Democratic celebration. Thirty-one Republicans who supported Califf in 2016 are nonetheless within the Senate, although Califf’s GOP assist has shrunk after anti-abortion teams publicly opposed his nomination.
Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Cornyn (Texas), and Mike Rounds (S.D.) all left open the chance they might vote for Califf.
“I like him. I’m aware of what he did earlier than. I haven’t made a remaining determination on it but,” Blunt mentioned. Blunt met with Califf in his workplace to debate the affirmation, the senator mentioned.
The Biden administration had hoped to schedule a vote on the Senate ground for Califf’s nomination within the first half of February, in keeping with two sources following the nomination course of. The continued uncertainty suggests they gained’t meet that objective.
“I might see this presumably going till the tip of the 12 months, till a brand new Congress is available in,” mentioned Wayne Pines, the president of well being care on the consulting agency APCO who has served as casual “sherpa” for a number of earlier FDA commissioners.
The White Home mentioned in a press release: “We’re assured Dr. Califf will likely be confirmed with bipartisan assist, and it’s vital to have confirmed management on the FDA within the midst of a pandemic.”
Califf’s nomination is essentially the most sophisticated in FDA historical past, in keeping with Pines. However you wouldn’t understand it from the shoestring operation attempting to push Califf’s nomination by way of the Senate.
Whereas previous administrations have introduced in casual “sherpas” to assist put together nominees for the FDA affirmation course of, the Biden administration didn’t achieve this with Califf, in keeping with two sources following the affirmation course of.
As a substitute, his nomination is being “sherpaed” primarily by three administration officers: Rose Sullivan, who beforehand served as chief of employees for Klobuchar and is now the second in charge of the federal well being division’s workplace of laws; Kelsey Mellette, coverage advisor to then-Sen. Kamala Harris, and Andi Fristedt, the present deputy commissioner for coverage, laws and worldwide affairs on the FDA, in keeping with the 2 sources.
Already three Democrats and Unbiased Bernie Sanders (Vt.) have publicly pledged to vote in opposition to Califf’s nomination: Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) Ed Markey (Mass.), and Maggie Hassan (N.H.). Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) has additionally mentioned he has considerations with Califf’s nomination.
And incomes Republican assist gained’t be simple after the pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony Listing, determined to not solely oppose Califf’s nomination over his views on medical abortion, however “key vote” the nomination — that means senators’ votes on Califf will issue into their rankings from the highly effective group. Almost all Republican Senators have an A+ from the group, a truth they often tout on the marketing campaign path.
The Biden administration is counting on one Republican senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, to ship on that monumental activity, in keeping with the 2 sources.
Califf did, nevertheless, win over a key Democratic vote earlier this week. POLITICO reported Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will assist Califf’s nomination after he agreed to extend the period of time he’ll recuse himself from issues involving corporations with which he has a monetary relationship.