The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Tuesday voted 18 to 5 to advance the nomination of Stephen Hahn to be the next US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner.
HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) pledged his support for Hahn and said he hopes the full Senate will vote on Hahn’s nomination by the end of the month.
Ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA) raised questions about Hahn’s commitment to safety with respect to tobacco regulation. She, along with presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and two others voted against Hahn’s nomination. But six other Democrats, including Sens. Doug Jones (AL) and Tim Kaine (VA), voted for Hahn.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), meanwhile, voted yes with reservations. He expressed hope that Hahn would follow the science with regard to vaping and place public health above political interests.
“I’m concerned we have a massive public health emergency with vaping and because this has political implications, we may not do right by the American people. I do intend to insist he communicate how his decisions are being made with regards to this epidemic,” Romney said on Tuesday ahead of the vote.
More than 40 groups and nonprofits, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Friends of Cancer Research and the National Organization for Rare Disorders, sent a letter to Senate leaders on Monday pledging their support for Hahn’s nomination. Five former FDA commissioners also previously backed Hahn.
In his committee hearing last month, Hahn, chief medical executive of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, deflected on questions related to the Trump administration’s reversal on a plan to ban flavored e-cigarettes, but he noted: “This is an urgent crisis – tobacco and nicotine, we need to take action. Nothing is more important than protecting our youth.”
He also reiterated multiple times during the hearing that he makes decisions based on data, science and the law and that he has depended on FDA for the entirety of his career in providing him with confidence in the treatments he’s prescribed.
“I’m humbled to be in a position to lead that agency I trusted for my entire career,” he said.