Warren secures ethics concessions from Biden FDA pick

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

President Biden’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made significant ethics concessions to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in an effort to secure Democratic votes ahead of his confirmation.

In a letter to Warren, Robert Califf committed not to seek employment or compensation from any drug or medical device companies he interacts with as commissioner for four years following his tenure if confirmed.

“I intend to pursue opportunities in higher education to help educate the next generation of medical leaders. I have, and always will be, a physician and researcher first,” Califf wrote in a letter dated Jan. 27. 

Califf also committed to recuse himself from matters involving his former employers and clients for four years, two years longer than what is required in the Biden-Harris administration’s ethics pledge.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has set the highest ethical standards of any Administration for its political appointees,” Califf wrote. “However, in response to your letter, I am willing to voluntarily extend the recusal period from two years to four years for all particular matters involving companies with which I have a previous working relationship.” 

Califf also agreed to recuse himself from all matters before the FDA involving Duke University, which he retired from in 2019. 

“I believe it is important to reassure the public at the outset that the previous positions will not bias or influence any of my decision making on behalf of the agency,” Califf wrote. 

Califf previously served as FDA commissioner in 2016 at the end of the Obama administration. Since he left government, Califf has advised Google Health and its spinoff, Verily Life Sciences. Warren previously expressed concern about Califf’s $2.7 million paycheck for advising Verily. 

In a statement, Warren Califf “has demonstrated a strong commitment to avoiding conflicts of interest and closing the revolving door between FDA and the industries it regulates.”

A spokesperson for Warren said the senator plans to support Califf if his nomination comes to a vote.

In 2016, Califf was easily confirmed by a vote of 89-4, but it’s not clear he has enough support among the 50 senators needed.

At least five Democratic senators have said they would oppose Califf due to concerns over his industry ties and track record on regulating opioids, and anti-abortion groups are pressuring Republicans to oppose him as well.

Califf advanced through the Senate Health Committee by a 13-8 vote earlier this month. 

Tags Elizabeth Warren Ethics FDA Joe Biden Opioids Pharmaceutical industry

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