“I think it is going to be close, but I think he’s gonna make it,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told POLITICO. “We have a few Republicans.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters on Thursday he still opposes Califf.
“I’m not going to talk about the conversations I’ve had with the White House,” Blumenthal said. “I have conversations all the time … I don’t feel any real arm twisting is going on as far as I’m aware.”
FDA has been without a permanent commissioner for more than a year, leaving the agency without political leadership to manage other major regulatory priorities, such as e-cigarettes. The Biden administration spent months searching for a viable candidate for the post after several Democrats indicated they wouldn’t support Janet Woodcock, who’s served as acting commissioner, to remain atop FDA due to her involvement in decisions they say exacerbated the opioid epidemic.
Still, Califf’s previous stint at the agency has prompted Democratic senators from opioid-ravaged states, like Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to oppose his nomination, arguing that he didn’t do enough to rein in regulators’ labeling practices. Others have taken issue with his industry work since he left public service; Califf previously led health strategy at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, earning millions in salary and stock. And despite his 89-4 confirmation vote in 2016, Califf also has faced headwinds from Republicans concerned about the FDA’s recent decision to loosen restrictions on prescribing the abortion pill mifepristone.
Senior White House aides, including White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients and chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, have since made calls on his behalf, and Califf himself held a recent series of one-on-one meetings with undecided senators to try to assuage their concerns. The administration now believes that Califf has the 50 votes needed to be confirmed, two of the people with knowledge of the matter said. White House officials are hoping that more senators will back him once they realize he is a lock to be confirmed.
Califf has secured support from previously undecided Democrats in recent days, including Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon.