Senate Commerce advances Biden’s top science nominee
The Senate Commerce Committee voted Thursday to advance President Biden’s nominee to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Five Republicans — Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Ron Johnson (Wisc.) and Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.) — voted against advancing Eric Lander’s nomination. All Democrats voted in favor.
Lander will be the first person at the position since Biden elevated it to Cabinet level, and he is the only member of Biden’s Cabinet yet to be confirmed.
Lander faced pushback during his nomination hearing over allegations of downplaying the contributions of two female scientists, as well as over two meetings he had in the past with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she would have “loved to see a woman” nominated for the position, but she supported Lander’s nomination. Cantwell said she expects to see women in the office play “very key leadership roles” and for diversity in science to be a focus for Lander.
“Most importantly, Dr. Lander and I have come to a focus and an understanding that the very first task he should focus on is helping all of us add diversity of women and minorities in the science field. So he and I will be working aggressively on that,” she said.
Ranking member Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he supported Lander’s nomination after “carefully reviewing a number of matters that were raised” during his nomination hearing, and considering his responses to questions posed by senators.
“I am grateful that he appreciates the need for equitable funding and research opportunities for all Americans, regardless of what state or region they live in,” Wicker said.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also issued glowing praise for Lander ahead of the vote, calling him a “visionary scientist” and “uniquely suited” to lead the office.
During his nomination hearing last month, Lander apologized in response to a question from Lummis about downplaying the work of two female scientists, Nobel Prize winners Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, in a 2016 paper.
“I made a mistake, and when I make a mistake I own it and try to do better,” Lander said at the hearing.
In response to his meetings with Epstein, Lander said the “sum total” of his interaction was that he met him briefly at two events within the span of three weeks in the spring of 2012.
“I did not know about his sordid history before that point. As soon as I learned about it, I had nothing to do with him thereafter,” Lander said.
Epstein had been a convicted sex offender since 2008. He died in 2019 awaiting trial on further sex trafficking charges involving teenage girls.