Dr. Rachel Levine, the former Pennsylvania Health Secretary, was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as the nation’s assistant secretary of health for the Department of Health and Human Services. She is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.
The final vote for Levine fell majorly along party lines culminating in a final vote of 52-48. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine were the sole Republicans to join the Democrats in supporting Levine. Those Republicans that stood against her did so on the basis of her COVID-19 response in Pennsylvania, though other concerns did arise from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky during her confirmation hearing on February 25. During Dr. Levine’s February hearing Paul pointedly asked, “Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” Levine replied simply that transgender medicine “is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” but that she would be willing to discuss the issue further with him. Levine had in the past stated that hormone therapy and puberty-blocking drugs could be valuable medical tools in assisting the mental distress many transgender youth experience.
A graduate of Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, Levine once served as president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Offices and is also a former pediatrician and Pennsylvania physician general. Prior to her appointment as Pennsylvania’s health secretary by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017, Levine was known for her writings in the past on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBTQ medicine. As Pennsylvania’s health secretary Levine emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and gained praise from many, ultimately leading to her nomination by President Biden.
While there has been some pushback against Levine’s appointment (primarily from a private Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom), Levine has received general support. President Biden, in his nomination, stated that Levine would provide “steady leadership” and “essential expertise” and would be a valuable asset in the fight against COVID-19.