Senate approves Obama's FDA chief

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The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to confirm President Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Senators voted 89-4 on Robert Califf's nomination after he easily jumped a procedural hurdle earlier this week. 

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Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteJuan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns Republicans blast latest Gitmo transfer MORE (R-N.H.) — who has made combating the opioid epidemic central to her reelection bid — joined with Democratic Sens. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalElizabeth Warren joins House Dems' sit-in Democrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Dems blast Republicans after failed gun votes MORE (Conn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Healthcare: GOP plan marks new phase in ObamaCare fight Overnight Healthcare: Dems trying to force Zika vote | White House tries to stall opioids bill for $$ | Free Lyft rides from ObamaCare Overnight Healthcare: New momentum to lift ban on gay men donating blood MORE (Mass.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA 14 dead in West Virginia flooding Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote MORE (W.Va.) to oppose his nomination. 

The senators voiced concerns about Califf's ties to the pharmaceutical industry. They've also raised questions about the FDA's plan to tackle the growing abuse of prescription drugs and heroin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December that overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2014.  

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats adopt climate change science investigation in platform NRA, Planned Parenthood top Trump, Clinton in favorability Judd Gregg: The lost candidate MORE (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, opposes Califf's nomination but missed Wednesday's vote. He said in a statement he was concerned that Obama's pick wouldn't "stand up to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry."

"I am disappointed that Dr. Califf has been confirmed to be the new FDA commissioner," he added. "We have got to do everything we can to lower the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs. A life-saving drug does no good if a sick patient cannot afford it." 

The FDA rolled out a "wide-reaching" plan to address the opioid crisis, an effort indirectly aimed at tackling roadblocks to Califf's nomination. A pair of Democratic senators, however, suggested they are "unimpressed" by the effort. 

Markey told reporters this week the FDA needs a wider process for reviewing prescription painkillers. 

"This is the beginning of a long struggle," he said. "We need the FDA to be a top cop on the beat, not a rubber stamp." 

Markey, as well as as Manchin, wanted to use Califf's nomination to force a larger debate. The West Virginia senator spent more than an hour on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon reading letters from constituents affected by prescription drug abuse. 

Califf’s nomination has also earned pushback from progressive groups. Credo Action launched a petition, which collected more than 190,000 signatures, calling Califf an “industry insider” and saying a vote for him is “a vote for big pharma.”

But leadership on both sides of the aisle praised Califf this week, saying he’s the right man for the job. 

"I of course am glad that we're moving forward on Dr. Califf. He's a fine man. He'll do a good job as head of the Food and Drug Administration," Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWeek ahead: Court watchers await abortion ruling; Zika fight heads to Senate This week: Zika, Puerto Rico fights loom ahead of recess Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016 MORE (D-Nev.) said on the Senate floor. 

The Senate is expected to take up broader legislation on drug abuse soon, with Reid signaling that Democrats will push for changes in the bill.

“I would hope that everyone would appreciate the fact that we around here do too often celebrate the passing of legislation that really doesn’t have much to do with reality,” he warned Tuesday. “We need to devote real resources, not just lip service, to this important problem.” 

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