Senate confirms first openly transgender official, approving Levine for HHS

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rachel LevineRachel LevineBiden nominates first openly-gay woman to serve as US ambassador Biden: 'Pride is back at the White House' Overnight Health Care: White House acknowledges it will fall short of July 4 vaccine goal | Fauci warns of 'localized surges' in areas with low vaccination rates | Senate Finance leader releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices MORE to be assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, making her the first openly transgender official ever approved by the upper chamber.

Levine, previously physician general and secretary of health in Pennsylvania, was confirmed 52-48 in a mostly party-line vote, with GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (Alaska) supporting the nomination.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday ahead of the vote, Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (N.Y.) praised the confirmation as historic. 

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“The arc of history is long but it keeps bending in the direction of justice,” he said. “As transgender Americans suffer higher rates of abuse, homelessness and depression than almost every other group, it’s important to have national figures like Dr. Levine who, by virtue of being in the public spotlight, will help break down barriers of ignorance and fear.”

Republicans opposing her pointed to Pennsylvania’s record in fighting COVID-19, arguing that the state’s experience does not bode well for Levine to move up to fighting the virus on the national level. 

“Along with the testing challenges from last spring, your state failed to adequately protect nursing home residents from the virus, and is making unacceptable mistakes in the vaccine distribution process,” Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Health Committee, said at her confirmation hearing. 

Burr pointed to confusion in the state’s vaccine rollout, including an instance where thousands of people received first doses intended to be set aside for second doses. While the February incident occurred after Levine had left office, Burr said she had earlier been responsible for planning the vaccine rollout. 

At her hearing, Levine pointed to her efforts in Pennsylvania to fight the opioid crisis, including expanding the use of the overdose treatment naloxone by first responders. 

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In the COVID-19 fight, she pointed to the state’s health equity task force, which engaged with Black and Latino community groups. 

Democrats noted that she was confirmed three times by the GOP-led state Senate in Pennsylvania. 

“The historic nature of her nomination should not be lost on anyone, but Dr. Levine thoroughly deserves to be confirmed on the strength of her qualifications,” Schumer said.