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Senate narrowly confirms Dr. Robert Califf, Biden's pick to lead FDA

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- With a narrow 50-46 vote, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed Dr. Robert Califf to become the next Food and Drug Administration commissioner -- filling a key post that's had only an interim chief for much of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most Democrats and six Republicans voted to confirm Califf, President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the agency. The six Republicans were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

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Four Democrats -- Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut -- voted against Califf's nomination. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats, also opposed the nomination.

Those who opposed Califf in the FDA post expressed concern about his ties in the pharmaceutical industry and worried that he wouldn't act aggressively enough to battle the opioid crisis.

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Califf, 70, is expected to be sworn in this week and faces some key decisions, such as approving a COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5 and making decisions about e-cigarettes. He's a prominent cardiologist with extensive clinical research experience who also served as FDA chief during former President Barack Obama's final year in office.

Since Dr. Janet Woodcock has been acting FDA commissioner since January 2021.

Califf has said that, if confirmed, he would resign from his posts on the boards of two pharmaceutical companies and as an adviser at another and divest stock holdings.

RELATED FDA panel rejects drug tested only in China for lung cancer

This article has been updated to correct the first name of Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

This week in Washington

National security adviser Jake Sullivan responds to questions from the news media during the daily press briefing at the White House on Thursday. Sullivan responded to questions about reports of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Photo by Shawn Thew/UPI | License Photo

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