- Dr. Rachel Levine, a trans woman, has been confirmed as assistant secretary of health.
- In a 52-48 vote Wednesday, the Senate made history by confirming Levine.
- The confirmation makes Levine the highest-ranking openly trans person in the federal government.
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The Senate made history Wednesday by confirming Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health in a 52-48 vote, making her the highest-ranking openly transgender person in the federal government.
All Democrats and independents in the Senate voted to confirm Levine, while Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke with Republicans to make the confirmation a bipartisan one.
Levine’s confirmation has been praised by LGBTQ advocacy groups.
“President Biden committed to appointing our nation’s most qualified leaders to tackle the pandemic and he delivered in choosing Dr. Levine,” former Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, the president of LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Yet the importance of this moment extends well-beyond the health of our nation alone.”
Parker added: “At a time when hateful politicians are weaponizing trans lives for their own perceived political gain, Dr. Levine’s confirmation lends focus to the contributions trans people make to our nation and deflates absurd arguments calling for their exclusion.”
Levine’s nomination faced opposition from religious-rights groups as well as some Republican senators.
The former Pennsylvania health secretary remained calm amid aggressive questioning during her confirmation hearing last month.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky faced backlash after he asked Levine during the hearing if she was a supporter of the “surgical destruction of a minor’s genitalia” and believed minors could make “such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”
Levine responded by saying: “Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.”
She also told Paul she would discuss the matter further if confirmed.
As assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services, Levine will oversee public-health initiatives, and President Joe Biden has said Levine will play an important role in the country’s coronavirus response, according to The Washington Post.
Before serving as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Levine was the state’s physician general.
In a January statement about her nomination, Biden said she was a “historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead out administration’s health efforts.”
“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic – no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability – and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement.