This week: Confirmation fight over Biden’s FDA nominee comes to a head

An intense confirmation battle over Robert Califf, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is poised to come to a head this week. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed cloture on the nomination, paving the way for a vote. 

Schumer’s decision comes amid an intense behind-the-scenes effort by the White House to shore up Califf’s nomination as conservatives try to galvanize a handful of expected Democratic “no” votes and sink his confirmation. 

Califf was confirmed for the position in 2016 in an 89-4 vote but is facing a significantly tighter margin the second time around after his nomination was advanced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee 13-8. 

Califf picked up only four GOP senators during the committee vote: Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah). Romney, in particular, has come under pressure by outside groups to switch his vote. 

He’s also expected to face at least a handful of Democratic defections. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who similarly opposed his nomination in 2016, penned an op-ed late last week with Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) urging the White House to withdraw the nomination. 

“The current FDA commissioner nominee, Dr. Robert Califf, has significant ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and his leadership of the FDA would take us backward, not forward. His nomination is an insult to the many families and individuals who have had their lives changed forever as a result of addiction,” they wrote. 

In addition to Manchin, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are expected to oppose Califf’s nomination. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) is absent after suffering a stroke, and other Democratic senators remain on the fence. 

White House officials and senators in both parties have predicted that he ultimately gets confirmed, albeit by a closer vote than his 2016 confirmation. 

In an effort to help shore up support, Califf has been meeting with senators. A White House official told The Hill earlier this month that he had met with 33 senators at the time and was scheduled to meet with at least 14 more.

Califf has been picking up Democratic votes, including Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (Ore.). 

“The FDA has an indispensable role in protecting the health and safety of Americans. Americans are counting on the FDA to address serious health issues, from tobacco and e-cigarette use to the ongoing opioid and fentanyl crisis. I am prepared to support Dr. Califf’s nomination so that he can shift the FDA into high gear to take action on these challenges, and I will be watching closely to ensure that happens,” Wyden said in a statement.

Postal reform

Schumer has hoped to hold an initial vote on taking up a House-passed postal reform bill on Monday evening. 

The House passed the postal reform bill last week, with Schumer quickly moving to tee up the bill in the Senate. 

But the House subsequently unanimously passed a fix for a clerical error to the bill on Friday, before leaving town for two weeks. That now needs to be adopted by the Senate but could face snags. 

Democrats are hoping to make the clerical fix on Monday, but Schumer’s spokesperson warned that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) could block that from happening. Because Schumer would try to adopt the fix by unanimous consent, any one senator could object and block him. 

“As it has been reported, the House of Representatives made a minor clerical error when it sent the bipartisan Postal Service Reform bill to the Senate. House Republicans worked with House Democrats to pass a technical correction by Unanimous Consent on Friday. Now, Senator Rick Scott is threatening to block the same fix by Unanimous Consent on Monday in the Senate,” a spokesperson for Schumer said in a statement. 

“It is time for Senate Republicans practice what they preach and rein in reckless Rick Scott’s political games so we can pass bipartisan legislation,” the spokesperson added. 

The bill, if it becomes law, would overhaul the United States Postal Service. 

It eliminates a requirement that the Postal Service prepay future retirement health benefits and allows the Postal Service to provide non-postal services as part of an agreement with state and local governments. It also requires that the Postal Service make deliveries six days of the week. 

Jan. 6 hearing

With the House out of town this week, the House Administration Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday with Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton to review his four final “flash reports” about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Bolton as part of his reports has identified areas of improvement and made recommendations to the department. The U.S. Capitol Police Board previously said that more than 90 of the 103 recommendations issued by the Office of the Inspector General within the Capitol Police were being addressed or were already implemented.

“Over the past year, the United States Capitol Police Inspector General’s series of flash reports has revealed alarming information about the severity of the threat to the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and institutional shortcomings within the Department at that time,” said House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said.

Tags Ben Ray Lujan Bernie Sanders Capitol Police inspector general Charles Schumer Dick Durbin Ed Markey FDA FDA Commissioner Food and Drug Administration January 6 attack on the Capitol Joe Biden Joe Manchin Lisa Murkowski Maggie Hassan Mike Braun Mitt Romney Postal reform postal reform bill Richard Burr Ron Wyden Susan Collins Zoe Lofgren

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