Senate GOP chairman vows to block HHS nominee

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has vowed to block the nomination of a top health official over the Obama administration’s handling of the Planned Parenthood controversy.

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Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate rivals gear up for debates Grassley pulling away from Dem challenger Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (R-Iowa) said he plans to hold up the appointment of Dr. Mary Wakefield as Health and Human Services (HHS) deputy secretary until he receives an adequate response from the department about how it is probing claims against Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue program.

Grassley said he and three other senators wrote to HHS last summer “regarding fetal tissue harvesting practices” of Planned Parenthood, which receives federal grants from the department.

“Response to the letters did not fully answer the questions raised and, furthermore, raised additional concerns. Follow-up inquiries to HHS also failed to address some of the questions,” Grassley wrote.

He quietly announced his objections in the Congressional Record, which was published online Tuesday.

The senator's objections were quickly condemned by Planned Parenthood, which has been cleared of any wrongdoing in more than a dozen state investigations, including one ordered by Texas’s Republican governor.

The group has been accused of profiting from its fetal tissue donation program since last summer, when it was first targeted in a series of videos produced by an anti-abortion-rights group. Two individuals involved in that group are now facing charges for illegal conduct in producing the video.

"Chuck Grassley has sunk to a new low,” a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman wrote in an email, underscoring the need for HHS to be fully staffed as it fights threats like the Zika virus.

“Grassley's actions are reckless, irresponsible and threaten the health and safety of millions,” she wrote.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurrayDems call for better birth control access for female troops US wins aerospace subsidies trade case over the EU Senate Dems unveil new public option push for ObamaCare MORE, the top Democrat on the Senate's health committee, also blasted Grassley for ignoring previous probes.

"Holding up a nominee to a key public health post won’t change the facts," she wrote in a statement Wednesday.