The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Dr. Scott Gottlieb, President Trump’s pick to oversee the Food and Drug Administration, as every voting Republican and a handful of supportive Democrats overpowered critics who said he wouldn’t serve as an adequate check on drug companies in the midst of a national opioid crisis.
The Connecticut physician was confirmed 57-42 and will be in charge of safeguarding the food Americans eat, approving life-saving drugs and regulating tobacco products.
The agency, part of the sprawling Health and Human Services Department, also oversees everything from vaccines to pet food to the nation’s blood supply.
Dr. Gottlieb is an internist who worked as a deputy commissioner at the FDA during the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007. He is also a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine and a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
He is also no stranger to the Congress, appearing frequently on Capitol Hill to testify on health-care matters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as FDA commissioner Dr. Gottlieb will be a critical partner in fighting the opioid epidemic, fast-tracking therapies and painkillers that are safer and less likely to lead to addiction.
“As a practicing physician with a wealth of policy experience, Dr. Gottlieb has the necessary qualifications to lead the FDA at this critical time,” Mr. McConnell said.
Yet Democrats from hard-hit states opposed Dr. Gottlieb, saying he had too many business ties with pharmaceutical companies and failed to support measures that would crack down on the industry.
“At this time of crisis we need a leader at the FDA who recognizes the dangers of prescription painkillers, who will stand up to big Pharma and reform the FDA to prevent addiction before it takes hold,” Sen. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said. “Dr. Scott Gottlieb is not that individual.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat whose daughter runs a drug company that was criticized last year for hiking the price of EpiPens, cited similar reasons in opposing the nomination, saying “it is inappropriate for the FDA Commissioner to have such close financial ties with the pharmaceutical industry.”
Senate Health Committee Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said Dr. Gottlieb’s array of experience should be viewed as an asset, not a liability.
“Some of the same people who are criticizing Dr. Gottlieb for having a background in working with companies that manufacture drugs criticized President Trump’s secretary of education because she had never been on the payroll of people that she was about to be in charge of, so you can’t have it both ways,” he said.