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 AyotteWeek ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director Kelly Ayotte among candidates to be FBI director: report MORE (R-N.H.) — who has made combating the opioid epidemic central to her reelection bid — joined with Democratic Sens. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalSenators push for enhanced powers to battle botnets Five things to know about Joe Lieberman Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise MORE (Conn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyTrump's steps on Iran show cooperation with Congress is possible FCC votes to advance net neutrality repeal Senate Dems appeal to 'everyone who uses the internet' on net neutrality roll back MORE (Mass.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinIn the politics of healthcare reform, past is prologue Dem senator: UK attack shows importance of US intelligence community Heitkamp, Manchin under pressure over GOP regs bill 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 SandersOvernight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' Schumer: Republicans should throw their health bill 'in the trash' Overnight Finance: GOP bill would leave 23M more uninsured, says CBO | Trump aides defend budget | Mnuchin asks for clean debt hike before August | Ryan says House could pass bill without border tax 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 ReidThis week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? Racial representation: A solution to inequality in the People’s House 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.”