02.25.21

Ranking Member Burr Raises Concerns about Biden’s Assistant HHS Secretary and Surgeon General Picks

Biden Administration still yet to nominate candidate for ASPR, critical role overseeing pandemic response

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its nomination hearings for Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as the Medical Director in the Regular Corps of the Public Health Service and the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.

In his prepared opening remarks, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), questioned Dr. Levine’s challenges with testing, treatment, and vaccination in Pennsylvania and Dr. Murthy’s ability to separate political influence from health care decisions. Additionally, Ranking Member Burr underscored the importance of the Biden Administration filling the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the top advisor to the Secretary of HHS during public health emergencies.

2.25.21 Ranking Member Burr HELP Hearing

WATCH: Ranking Member Burr delivers opening remarks before the nomination hearing of Drs. Levine and Murthy

Key excerpts:

“Each of you have accepted nominations at an important time, when our country is facing one of the most challenging times in our history as we combat COVID-19… As Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Levine, you would be in charge of a range of health issues, including human research protections and research integrity.  As Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy, you would be responsible for providing Americans with the best scientific information and overseeing the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, both of which continue to be critical to the pandemic response.

“But I am very concerned about a nomination that is not before us today, in fact it hasn’t even yet been made by the Biden Administration.

“The Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response – or the ASPR for short – is the top advisor to the Secretary of HHS during public health emergencies…We have before us the nominees for both the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Surgeon General, but not their coordinator, the ASPR.

“…While the words of this administration claim urgency in their response to COVID-19, their actions, or lack thereof, speak otherwise…the nominations before us today, while important, do not fill the role at the Department charged with leading an emergency response. This Administration claimed to be ready on ‘Day One’ but the fact that a nomination for the ASPR hasn’t yet been made, and no meaningful effort at consultation with Congress about filling that position, raises serious concerns. 

“Dr. Levine, you have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response in your home state of Pennsylvania, which faced great challenges with testing capacity early in the pandemic and vaccine rollout to this day… Along with the testing challenges from last spring, your state failed to adequately protect nursing home residents from the virus, and is making unacceptable mistakes in the vaccine distribution process. Pennsylvania ranks as one of the most dangerous states for long-term care residents battling COVID-19. 

“While you have stated that you relied on federal guidance for nursing home care during the pandemic, the tragically high mortality rate in your state’s nursing homes shows that more needed to be done, but wasn’t. 

“…At each step – testing, treatment, and now vaccination – your state’s response has fallen short. As the state’s health secretary, this track record reflects on your ability to meet the challenges that would come across your desk immediately, should you be confirmed for this role.

“[Dr. Murthy]… I worry about your ability to separate political influence from your ability to communicate health care decisions. In fact, you spoke at the Democratic National Convention – a wholly political event – just a few months ago.

“As Co-Chair of the transition team’s Coronavirus Taskforce you said that the President’s goal of 100 million vaccinations by 100 days was ‘doable,’ lowering expectations for an accomplishment well within our reach today. Before President Biden took office our country was already vaccinating 900,000 people a day and had administered over 20 million shots. I’m in politics, so I know lots of people try to lower expectations in order to look like they are accomplishing something when they are simply showing up, but the Surgeon General has to be trusted on the facts… The American people deserve a Surgeon General who will separate fact from fiction and level with us on the science.

“Strong leadership will continue to be an absolute necessity through this phase of the pandemic response, and I will use my time today to get an answer to the question of ‘who is in charge?’”

To read Ranking Member Burr’s full opening remarks delivered at today’s hearing, click here.