- Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on Thursday announced he will filibuster the nomination of Robert Califf for FDA commissioner, citing Califf's ties to the pharma industry and concerns he will not effectively push back against the approval of opioid painkillers.
- Separately, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) joined a hold placed on Califf's nomination by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). Both Senators were also motivated by concern over the FDA's approach to approving opioids.
- In a statement, Manchin said during his filibuster he would read letters from West Virginians suffering from the effects of opioid abuse.
Senators Manchin and Ayotte join a growing chorus of bipartisan opposition to Califf's nomination. In addition to the hold placed by Markey, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have also announced separate holds, which temporarily block the Senate from voting on Califf's nomination.
"The FDA and Commissioner’s number one priority should be public health and it is inappropriate for the FDA Commissioner to have had such close financial ties with the pharmaceutical industry," said Manchin in a statement.
"We need to change the culture of the FDA, and that will not happen if the person at the helm is not a champion who is committed to pushing back against the pressure to continually approve new opioid medications given the significant risks to public health."
Under Senate rules, a Senator can block a nomination vote unless 60 Senators vote to overrule the hold.
Overall opposition to Califf has centered on his previous ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which some legislators believe will hold him back from challenging the FDA's current approach to approving opioid painkillers.
In particular, Markey wants the FDA to reverse an August 2015 decision which approved OxyContin for pediatric use.
Last year, 18,893 people died from prescription opioid overdose, a 16% year over year increase. Over the past decade, overdose deaths have increased by roughly 73%, rising in parallel with overall prescription growth.