PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Dr. Rachel Levine has been confirmed as President Joe Biden’s assistant secretary for health. Levine was confirmed by a vote of 52-48 in the Senate on Wednesday.
Levine, the former Pennsylvania secretary of health, is the first openly transgender federal official.READ MORE: Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct Involving Ocean City Beach Patrol Members Under Investigation
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey voted to confirm Levine.
Before the roll call, Washington Sen. Patty Murray urged senators to support Levine. She applauded her work during the pandemic and opioid crisis in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey was the only tri-state senator to vote no on Levine’s nomination. Toomey said Levine “has not earned a promotion to help lead HHS.”
“In Pennsylvania, the pandemic struck seniors in nursing homes disproportionately hard compared to other states,” Toomey said in a statement. “This was due in part to poor decisions and oversight by Dr. Levine and the Wolf administration. Moreover, the commonwealth’s extended economic lockdown that Dr. Levine advocated for was excessive, arbitrary in nature, and has led to a slower recovery. While I appreciate Dr. Levine’s service and responsiveness to my office over the past year, she has not earned a promotion to help lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and I cannot support her confirmation.”
Levine had been serving as Pennsylvania’s top health official since 2017, and emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She is expected to oversee Health and Human Services offices and programs across the U.S.
Biden cited Levine’s experience when he nominated her in January.
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,” Biden said.
Transgender-rights activists have hailed Levine’s appointment as a historic breakthrough. Few trans people have ever held high-level offices at the federal or state level.
However, the confirmation vote came at a challenging moment for the transgender-rights movement as legislatures across the U.S. — primarily those under Republican control — are considering an unprecedented wave of bills targeting trans young people.
One type of bill, introduced in at least 25 states, seeks to ban trans girls and young women from participating in female scholastic sports.
One such measure already has been signed into law by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, and similar measures have been sent to the governors in Tennessee, Arkansas and South Dakota.
Another variety of bill, introduced in at least 17 states, seeks to outlaw or restrict certain types of medical care for transgender youths. None of these measures has yet won final approval.READ MORE: Multiple Faiths Joining Forces To Combat Philadelphia's Rising Gun Violence
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., confronted Levine about medical treatments for transgender young people — include hormone treatment and puberty blockers — during her confirmation hearing Feb. 25.
“Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?” Paul asked.
Levine replied that transgender medicine “is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” and said she would welcome discussing the issues with him.
In the past, Levine has asserted that hormone therapy and puberty-blocking drugs can be valuable medical tools in sparing some transgender youth from mental distress and possible suicide risk.
A pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, Levine was appointed as Pennsylvania’s health secretary by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017. She won confirmation by the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate.
A graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School, Levine is president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She’s written in the past on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.
Praise for her accomplishments and her handling of the pandemic have coincided with a steady stream of vitriol directed at her on social media.
As reported Tuesday by the Associated Press, Levine was among the targets of a private Facebook group called the Pittsburgh Area Police Breakroom whose participants included many current and retired police officers.
Dozens of group members fueled days of transphobic posts about Levine for her role in statewide social-distancing mandates to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Someone needs to shoot this thing!!” one retired officer wrote.
In January, a Pennsylvania legislator shared on Facebook an image mocking Levine’s appearance, then offered a general apology.
State Rep. Jeff Pyle, a Republican, said on Facebook that he “had no idea” the post mocking Levine “would be … received as poorly as it was” but that “tens of thousands of heated emails assured me it was.”MORE NEWS: 2 Mothers, Babies Rushed To Hospital After Being Rescued From Burning Frankford Apartment Building, Officials Say
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)