Califf advances in FDA chief nomination process, but not by a landslide

Jan. 17, 2022

The Senate Committee on Health voted to confirm the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf as the U.S. FDA commissioner, advancing his nomination with a 13-8 vote.

The 13-8 vote reflects the rocky road that may lie ahead for Califf in his confirmation process, which has mostly been attributed to his handling of the opioid crisis during his first tenure at the helm of the FDA during the Obama administration.

Among the no votes were independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Mike Braun of Indiana, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Jerry Moran of Kansas also voted against Califf’s nomination. Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did not vote.

Califf is a cardiologist who previously served as the head of the FDA from 2016-2017 after being appointed by President Obama. In 2019, he worked as head of medical strategy at Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google.

Califf was nominated over FDA veteran Janet Woodcock, who has been serving as acting commissioner since President Biden was elected. Califf himself, along with five other former FDA commissioners, threw support to Woodcock, who has worked at the FDA for 35 years, in a letter sent to the Biden administration in 2021.

When Califf was up for confirmation in 2016, he faced opposition from several Democrats. At the time, he was vice chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University. Concerned over the opioid epidemic, Democrats criticized Califf's ties to the pharma industry. Despite that, he was confirmed by a vote of 89-4.

No date for a Senate vote on Califf's current nomination has been set.