Senate

Manchin, Sanders will oppose Biden FDA nominee Califf

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Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Tuesday said they will oppose the nomination of Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning he will need Republican support to get confirmed in the upper chamber. 

Califf, a cardiologist and Duke University researcher, was previously confirmed in 2016 when he was nominated by former President Obama. Since he left government, Califf has advised Google Health and its spinoff, Verily Life Sciences.

Sanders was critical of Califf’s ties to the drug industry, noting that Califf has received consulting fees from Merck, Biogen and Eli Lilly. He also owns millions of dollars of stock in drug companies. 

“That is exactly the close relationship Big Pharma has exploited to regulate the FDA, instead of the FDA regulating them,” Sanders said in a statement.  “In this critical moment, Dr. Califf is not the leader Americans need at the FDA and I will oppose his nomination.”

Sanders also opposed Califf in 2016, though he was not present for the final vote. Califf was easily confirmed by a vote of 89-4. 

One of the votes against him came from Manchin, who signaled his opposition again when Biden announced Califf’s nomination last month. The other “no” votes were Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Manchin on Tuesday reiterated that he will vote against Califf, both for his industry ties and because of FDA’s role in the opioid crisis.

“I can’t fathom why we would confirm someone whose actions failed to swiftly curb the tide of the opioid epidemic and protect the public’s health, especially someone who has already helmed FDA as its Commissioner,” Manchin said in a statement. “We need a leader who is ready for reform in pursuit of improving public health outcomes and Dr. Califf is not that candidate. How many more Americans have to die before we see a culture change at the FDA?”

Califf largely breezed through a two-hour Senate Health Committee hearing on Tuesday, but faced pointed questions from Democrats about the FDA’s reluctance to crack down on opioid prescriptions.

Califf defended the actions he took during his brief stint as commissioner, and promised a “very aggressive approach” to opioid regulation. 

The Biden nominee also told Sanders that he supports allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, an issue he was not as forthcoming about during his 2015 hearing.

“I’m on record of being in favor of Medicare negotiating with the industry on prices,” Califf said.

Califf appeared poised to be confirmed a second time, though there has not been a vote scheduled yet.

“I’m not sure you could write a resume of somebody more qualified to be considered for commissioner of the FDA,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the panel’s top Republican. 

Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Drug prices Ed Markey FDA Joe Manchin Kelly Ayotte Opioid crisis Richard Burr

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