‘The White House isn’t supporting him’: Biden’s FDA pick left in limbo

Simply 4 Republicans — Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — voted for him in committee earlier this month, marking the primary public signal of hassle for Califf. In current days, folks acquainted with the method have grow to be more and more involved concerning the standing of Califf’s nomination.

“If the vote had been held in the present day, he wouldn’t have the votes,” mentioned one individual with information of the matter.

The rising anxiousness comes amid a yearlong absence of everlasting political management on the FDA, after the White House struggled for months to discover a candidate who may win majority assist in the evenly divided Senate.


Because of this, FDA — which regulates all the things from Covid-19 vaccines to huge swaths of the nation’s meals provide — stays reliant on longtime drug regulator Janet Woodcock to run the company on an performing foundation throughout a world pandemic that has already killed greater than 873,000 folks in america.

Biden settled on Califf in November, with aides touting his deep authorities expertise and broad attraction — evidenced when he was confirmed to the highest FDA put up in an 89-4 vote in 2016.

But whereas the administration and lawmakers anticipated narrower margins this time round, the quantity of opposition to Califf’s nomination amongst each Democrats and Republicans is stiffer than they anticipated, in keeping with interviews with 9 folks acquainted with the affirmation effort.

Califf didn’t reply to a request for remark.


5 Democrats — Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) — have signaled opposition to Califf’s nomination, however much more stay on the fence, in keeping with 4 of the folks acquainted with their pondering.

“I’m shocked the whip on Democrats is as excessive as they’re assuming,” a congressional aide mentioned of the administration’s confidence. “If his conferences have gone as I’ve heard with different Democrats, he’s not making an excellent impression.”

In current weeks, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Burr have led a scramble to win last-minute assist for Califf, in hopes of holding a ground vote by early February. A HELP Committee aide mentioned Murray “hopes he may be confirmed as rapidly as potential.” Some officers and allies stay optimistic they’ll in the end safe the 50 senators wanted to push Califf over the road, contending they solely must win over a couple of holdouts.

Thus far, there was no severe speak of pulling Califf’s nomination, and the administration has no prepared fallback candidates. If wanted, Senate Democrats may postpone a affirmation vote for weeks whereas they attempt to construct sufficient assist.


Some near the affirmation effort argued that Califf’s candidacy by no means ought to have been endangered in the primary place, faulting the White House for being too indifferent and noting the nominee himself has struggled to make his case to skeptical senators.

A crew from the well being division has largely managed Califf’s outreach, to middling opinions, three of the 9 folks with information of the matter mentioned. High White House officers, in the meantime, remained largely disengaged even because the administration telegraphed public confidence — and regardless of inner warnings that the nomination might be in hassle.

“The White House isn’t supporting him,” one of many folks with information of the matter mentioned. “He’s form of his personal one-man PR present.”

A White House official disputed the characterization, insisting there’s been “constant outreach to members all through this complete course of.”

However the White House has over the previous couple of weeks appeared to higher perceive the peril, one of many folks with information of the matter mentioned, dispatching senior aides like chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients and White House employees secretary Neera Tanden to make calls on Califf’s behalf.

“We’re assured Dr. Califf will probably be confirmed with bipartisan assist, and it’s vital to have confirmed management on the FDA in the midst of a pandemic,” White House spokesperson Chris Meagher mentioned.

Some lawmakers have cited concern about Califf’s work in the personal sector after his final stint at FDA. He most just lately led well being technique and coverage at Alphabet, Google’s mum or dad firm, the place monetary disclosures present he was paid tens of millions in inventory and greater than $2.7 million in wage and bonuses. The scientific trial professional additionally should divest holdings in well being care firms together with Amgen, Gilead Sciences, Bristol Myers Squibb and Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Senators have additionally expressed concern about Califf’s pharmaceutical trade ties and FDA’s observe file regulating opioids.

In the meantime, few Republicans have publicly backed Califf regardless of vocal assist from Burr, the Senate well being committee’s high Republican, who’s retiring on the finish of the yr. Burr has tried for weeks to safe sufficient Republican votes to offset the anticipated Democratic losses, three folks with information of the matter mentioned.

Califf additionally didn’t impress some key senators in his one-on-one conferences with them, three of the folks with information of the matter mentioned. Pandemic precautions compelled Califf to satisfy with some senators just about, additional complicating the get-to-know-you course of vital to profitable votes.

A Democratic aide whose boss helps Califf mentioned the senator met with him just about, however the nominee nonetheless wore a masks as a result of he had employees with him.

“It’s simply tougher to make a connection that approach,” the aide mentioned.

A number of GOP lawmakers have cited FDA’s current resolution to loosen abortion capsule shelling out necessities as motive to oppose the heart specialist. One GOP lobbyist instructed POLITICO assist amongst Republicans cratered when the FDA moved ahead in December with a plan to permit sufferers to acquire a mailed prescription for mifepristone — an abortion remedy — by means of a telehealth appointment.

“At most, he will get three to 4 GOP votes, so possibly he’s quick contemplating a minimum of 5 Democrats are a no,” the lobbyist mentioned.

Most Senate HELP Committee Republicans appeared favorable towards Califf throughout his affirmation listening to in December, primarily based on their strains of questioning and feedback to POLITICO afterwards. However a minimum of two — Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville and Kansas’ Roger Marshall — signaled they had been swayed by FDA’s mifepristone resolution.

Dozens of anti-abortion-rights teams, like Susan B. Anthony Record and College students for Life Motion, have mobilized in opposition to Califf, flooding Senate places of work with letters and calls urging “no” votes. They plan to proceed lobbying senators after they come again into session this week, organising conferences with members and employees.

Among the teams publicly focused Romney Thursday over his vote to assist Califf in committee, arguing that the vote violated his professed anti-abortion views.

Spokespeople for Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell declined to reply questions relating to the whip depend for Califf or whether or not he deliberate to vote to verify the previous FDA commissioner.

Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer’s workplace didn’t reply to a request for remark.

A number of teams, in addition to six former FDA leaders, have urged senators to promptly approve Califf, arguing it’s vital the company has everlasting management in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And main trade organizations, together with AdvaMed and the Affiliation for Accessible Medicines, issued constructive statements when Califf was nominated.

“Any time you’re with out a chief, I believe the imaginative and prescient suffers,” AdvaMed CEO Scott Whitaker instructed POLITICO. “The opposite factor that at all times worries me about leaving an company leaderless for an extended time period is the flexibility to recruit and entice folks to return in and be part of an company just like the FDA.”

However not each trade regulated by FDA desires Califf to be confirmed. Ought to Califf retake the mantle in Silver Spring, he’ll be in prime place to hurry up regulatory adjustments that e-cigarette proponents oppose.

“While you’re going through prohibition, delays of execution are by no means a nasty factor,” mentioned Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Affiliation.

Alston & Fowl lawyer Marc Scheineson, who served as affiliate commissioner for legislative affairs beneath former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, mentioned it’s untimely to conclude Califf doesn’t have the votes to be confirmed.

“I believe the White House will get the thought it is a precedence for them, and between their leverage and Burr’s, the dynamics are good,” Scheineson mentioned. “I’ve heard this will probably be scheduled or is being thought-about for the primary week of February — clearly, that scheduling is dependent upon having the votes.”

Alice Miranda Ollstein and Katherine Ellen Foley contributed to this report.

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