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 AyotteBattle brews over Trump’s foreign policy Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates NH voters hold Ayotte accountable for gun control votes MORE (R-N.H.) — who has made combating the opioid epidemic central to her reelection bid — joined with Democratic Sens. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalWrestling mogul McMahon could slam her way into Trump administration Obama will sign Iran sanctions bill passed by Senate Victims of Nazi Art theft need Congress to HEAR MORE (Conn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyThis week: Pelosi's test Dem senators drop objection to FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: FCC chief lashes out at GOP | Obama takes on fake news | Bill would delay new hacking powers MORE (Mass.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTrump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Trump meets with Dem senator amid Cabinet speculation Overnight Energy: Walden wins Energy gavel | Trump looks at Dems to head Energy, Interior 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 SandersFive things to watch for in the DNC race Sanders: I have little hope Trump will keep promises Democrats offer double-talk on Veterans Affairs 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 ReidDemocrats local party problem Trump flirts with Dems for Cabinet Lawmakers eye early exit from Washington 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.”