Stephen Hahn, nominee to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced President Donald Trump’s nomination of Dr. Stephen Hahn to be the next Food and Drug Administration commissioner.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved Hahn’s nomination in an 18 to 5 vote, sending his nomination to the full Senate. If confirmed, Hahn will join the FDA at a time when the spotlight is on the agency.
Democrats grilled Hahn in his confirmation hearing last month about how he would curb a teen vaping epidemic. Multiple senators, including some Republicans, pushed Hahn to take a stance on banning flavored e-cigarettes. The Trump administration in September announced its plan to pursue such a ban before backtracking later in the fall.
Hahn dodged those questions, saying he could not prejudge the policy and would let science guide his work. That raised “a big red flag” for Sen. Patty Murray, ranking member of the committee, she said Tuesday ahead of the vote.
“I was particularly concerned that when pressed several times by members on both sides of the aisle, Dr. Hahn refused to commit to implementing a strong policy to clear non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes that have not undergone FDA review from the market like the Trump administration promised to do before it heard from the tobacco industry and reversed course,” Murray, D-Wash., said.
Scrutiny over the FDA’s handling of e-cigarette regulation is intensifying. The agency’s top tobacco regulator Mitch Zeller will be on the Hill on Wednesday, his second appearance in the past month.
Hahn’s medical expertise is in radiation oncology, with specializations in treating lung cancer and sarcoma. He currently serves as MD Anderson Cancer Center’s chief medical officer. Hahn has little government experience.
The FDA is a sprawling agency that regulates a broad range of products, including food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices and tobacco. Among issues the FDA will confront are reviewing revolutionary medical treatments, tackling an opioid crisis that has killed scores of Americans and trying to regulate hemp-derived CBD.