Dr. Robert M. Califf was the Commissioner of Food and Drugs for almost a year until Jan. 20, 2017, when the new Republican administration took over.
But to again be FDA Commissioner, Califf must get help from Republican senators because some Democrats are abandoning Califf in large enough numbers to make it increasingly unlikely that the U.S. Senate will confirm him.
President Joe Biden last November nominated Califf as FDA Commissioner and Dr. Jose Emilio Esteban as the USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety, which would fill the two top food safety jobs in the federal government.
Califf’s confirmation is now considered at risk because at least five Senate Democrats have announced plans to oppose the former FDA Commissioner.
And while there are five Democratic senators who won’t vote for Califf, there is also one who now cannot: Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM. His Jan.27 stroke was more serious than first reported. It has incapacitated Luján and wire services report he may be out for at least six more weeks,
Luján’s medical leave means Califf must recruit one more Republican to support his confirmation. And Republicans will hold a 50-49 majority until the New Mexican senator is able to return.
Califf’s loss of support came after the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee recommended his confirmation. Any Senate floor vote won’t likely occur unless and until the Biden administration can find enough confirmation votes to put him over the top.
To improve Califf’s chances , the Biden administration will need to enlist Republicans to make up for the missing and defections it has experienced among Democrats.
The last time he was nominated to be FDA Commissioner, the U.S. Senate confirmed Califf on an 89-4 vote. This time Califf is forced to go door-to-door among the Senate offices, trying to stitch together the 50 votes he needs
Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, is voicing support for Califf and predicting there will be enough Republican votes for Califf’s confirmation. Burr is the ranking Republican on the Senate HELP committee.
The White House reports Califf has met with 33 Senators with 14 more scheduled. In the meantime, veteran FDA executive Janet Woodcock is acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs and into her second year. She has now run the agency longer than Califf.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture has not scheduled a hearing on the President’s appointment of Dr. Jose Emilio Esteban as the USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.
He was nominated almost three months ago. Esteban needs a hearing and favorable recommendation from the Senate Ag Committee before his confirmation vote can be taken up on the Senate floor.
Luján’s “stroke in the cerebellum,” which doctors have eased swelling with “decompressive surgery,” could add weeks or months to Esteban’s wait time for a confirmation vote.
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