Senators battle over FDA nominee's financial ties

Senators battle over FDA nominee's financial ties

President Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration faced repeated questions Wednesday over possible conflicts of interest related to his financial ties to an industry he would be tasked with regulating.

Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee peppered Scott Gottlieb with questions about whether he would be unable to separate himself from the interests of more than two-dozen drug and medical device companies he’s either invested in or consulted for.

“The worry here is that there will be industry-supported reforms that will find a voice inside of the agency because of your connection to the industry,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDems demand answers following explosive new Cohen report Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown Cardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid MORE (D-Conn.) said.

Murphy brought up an article Gottlieb wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in which he proposed creating a politically accountable board to decide which drugs get FDA approval.

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“It seems like it would be a big gift to the drug industry, being able to use their political donations in order to ultimately put a group of friendlies on a process or commission that decides approval, rather than having that process sheltered from the political process,” he said.

Gottlieb said he believes the approval process has already become politicized and he was simply trying to find a way to make the process more transparent.

“I hope you see it as your role to depoliticize that process,” Murphy said.

Republicans countered with claims that it’s Gottlieb’s experience in the healthcare field as a former physician and consultant that makes him qualified to lead the agency.

“As to his work with companies that have to do with drugs and food, that’s not so unusual for someone who is going to be head of the FDA, and in my view, it helps to have somebody who knows something about the subject,” committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices McConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks MORE (R-Tenn.) said.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCivil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber MORE (R-Ky.) asked Gottlieb if he would ever let the profits of drug or medical device companies obscure his duty to safety and efficacy.  

“Absolutely not, senator,” Gottlieb said.

“I think that’s important because that goes to character, and to me, your honor is on the line when you say that and we can argue back and forth but only you can say tell us that,” Paul said. 

Gottlieb promised in an ethics agreement last month to recuse himself for one year from FDA matters that directly impact the more than two dozen companies he’s tied to and divest his financial interests, but he would not commit to Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySen. Murray says Washington behavior reminds her of former preschool students Senate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal MORE’s (D-Wash.) request Wednesday to recuse himself for two years.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney MORE (R-Utah), meanwhile, commended Gottlieb for his willingness to give up his financial interests in the private sector for a government job.

“How stupid can you be?” he asked jokingly, drawing laughs from the crowd.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) Sanders2020 Dems seize on MLK Day for campaign messaging Sanders knocks Trump in MLK Day speech Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices MORE (I-Vt.) questioned Gottlieb about Trump’s motives in nominating him to the lead the FDA.

He noted that Trump supported the idea of allowing patients to buy prescription drugs from other countries to lower drug costs while on the campaign trail but nominated someone who wrote an op-ed in Forbes last year arguing against drug importation.

“I find it amazing that Trump says something during the campaign and then appoints people who have radically different ideas,” Sanders said.

Murphy, meanwhile, questioned Gottlieb about whether he would publicly oppose any calls from the Trump administration to create a political commission to look into the idea that vaccines cause autism.

While Trump has not said whether he believes the two are linked, he met with leading vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. just days before he took office. 

Gottlieb said the question of whether vaccines cause autism has been exhaustively studied. 

“I think we need to come to the point where we accept no for an answer on this question and come to a conclusion where there is no plausible link between vaccination and autism,” he said.