Califf narrowly confirmed for FDA commissioner, providing beleaguered agency with its first permanent chief in 13 months

Laurie McGinley and Rachel Roubein

This article by Laurie McGinley and Rachel Roubein appeared in The Washington Post on February 15, 2022.

Robert M. Califf, a cardiologist who led the Food and Drug Administration briefly in 2016, was confirmed Tuesday by a razor-thin 50 to 46 vote for a second stint as commissioner, giving the embattled agency its first permanent head in more than a year.

The cliffhanger Senate vote capped a drama that began last fall, when Califf, 71, was nominated by the Biden administration and widely viewed as a shoo-in, given the overwhelming bipartisan support he received in 2016. But this time around, his nomination was endangered by surprisingly strong opposition from most Republicans and a handful of Democrats.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and four Democrats voted against Califf’s confirmation: Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.). They said they opposed Califf because of his prior work with the pharmaceutical industry and what they called the FDA’s lax record on opioids.

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