Washington Focus

Senate Confirms Hahn to Be Next FDA Commissioner

Dec. 13, 2019 – In a vote of 72-18 the Senate yesterday confirmed Dr. Stephen Hahn to take the helm of the Food and Drug Administration even though it had been predicted that the vote to confirm Hahn as FDA Commissioner might be pushed to 2020 in light of competing priorities like the budget and impeachment proceedings.

“While many (including me) feared the vote on this nomination would be delayed into the new year, this is one time when it is great to have been wrong: Eight months after Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s departure, it is important for the FDA to get a new, Senate-confirmed leader in place,” said Jon Bigelow, executive director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “We’ll now be watching to see what issues Dr. Hahn prioritizes, and how effectively he builds support within the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill.”

Hahn’s confirmation appears to have been fast-tracked. He was nominated on Nov. 1, his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee was held Nov. 20, the Senate panel voted 17-5 to move his nomination to the full Senate on Dec. 3, and then the full Senate vote was taken yesterday.

Hahn, a respected radiation oncologist and researcher who has held top leadership positions at MD Anderson Cancer Center, came to the Senate panel hearing with almost no publicly available comments or writings either on specific FDA initiatives or on broader hot-button healthcare policy issues, such as dealing with the opioid crisis and vaping. After about 135 minutes of testimony, there were no significant conclusions about how he would approach the FDA Commissioner role.

However, his support from the Trump administration was unwavering.

“I congratulate Dr. Hahn and thank the Senate for prioritizing his nomination. President Trump has chosen a superbly qualified leader for FDA, and Dr. Hahn garnered strong bipartisan support,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement following Hahn’s confirmation vote. “Having a confirmed FDA Commissioner of Dr. Hahn’s caliber will be a major boost to the already rapid pace of the President’s aggressive public health agenda. Dr. Hahn brings an impressive set of scientific and leadership qualifications to the job, and I look forward to seeing the FDA and its people thrive under his leadership.”

Hahn follows in the footsteps of Gottlieb, who stepped down from the FDA Commissioner role in April.