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Biden’s FDA commissioner nominee advances despite Manchin’s opposition

<i>Getty</i><br/>Sen. Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin

By Lauren Fox, Morgan Rimmer and Ted Barrett, CNN

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia went to the Senate floor to crystallize his opposition to Dr. Robert Califf’s nomination to lead the Food and Drug Administration, but the nominee still advanced past a key procedural hurdle Monday evening.

In the narrowly divided Senate, Manchin’s opposition — which had been widely expected — means Democrats will have to rely on support from Republican senators to confirm Califf, but he appears on track to secure enough votes.

Five Republicans voted to break a filibuster on Califf’s nomination Monday night — including the top Republican on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.

A final vote to confirm Califf’s nomination has not yet been set but could come later this week.

Manchin was one of five Democrats to oppose advancing Califf’s nomination. The vote needed a simple majority to break the filibuster Monday, and the tally was 49-45.

“I will vote no on Dr. Califf’s nomination, and I have never been more profoundly confident of a vote I’m going to cast than I am right now,” Manchin said in a speech from the Senate floor Monday, ahead of the filibuster vote, asking his fellow senators to “send a message to this administration, to our President, that we need a new direction at the FDA.”

Manchin has been one of several Democrats opposed to Califf because of his ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

“Dr. Califf has shown us who he is, and he has shown a complete lack of interest in actually making the difficult decisions that we need the leader of the FDA to make,” Manchin said Monday. “Nothing that Dr. Califf has said or done has led me to believe he will operate the FDA any differently than he did during his previous tenure.”

Califf, a longtime cardiologist, was last confirmed to run the sprawling agency during President Barack Obama’s final year in office by an 89-4 vote. Prior to running the agency, Califf served as the FDA’s deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco. He was a professor of medicine and a vice chancellor for clinical and translational research at Duke University before joining the FDA. He was also the director of the Duke Translational Medicine Institute and is the founding director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

During his last confirmation process, Califf faced stiff opposition from multiple Democrats, including Manchin, who criticized his ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

“I have made it abundantly clear that correcting the culture at the FDA is critical to changing the tide of the opioid epidemic,” Manchin said in a statement when Califf’s nomination was announced in November. “Instead, Dr. Califf’s nomination and his significant ties to the pharmaceutical industry take us backwards not forward. His nomination is an insult to the many families and individuals who have had their lives changed forever as a result of addiction.”

“We are confident Dr. Califf will be confirmed with bipartisan support, and it is critical to have confirmed leadership at the FDA in the midst of a pandemic,” White House spokesman Chris Meagher said in a statement earlier this year.

Califf’s nomination has been hard fought with the FDA nominee spending weeks meeting with senators on both sides of the aisle. Some conservatives have tried to paint Califf as too extreme on abortion rights.

Last week, Califf won a major boost when previously undecided Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, announced he would back Califf. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, also told reporters last week that she would support Califf.

“You know at this point, I think yes on balance I would support him,” Stabenow said.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Monday.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

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