With just two Republicans voting in support of the move, Dr. Rachel Levine on Wednesday became the first openly transgender official to be confirmed to a federal position by the United States Senate, The Hill reported.
The new assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was confirmed in a 52–48 vote in Congress’ upper chamber, with GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) joining all Senate Democrats in favor of Levine’s nomination by President Joe Biden.
“The arc of history is long but it keeps bending in the direction of justice,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said ahead of the vote, according to The Hill.
“As transgender Americans suffer higher rates of abuse, homelessness, and depression than almost every other group, it’s important to have national figures like Dr. Levine who, by virtue of being in the public spotlight, will help break down barriers of ignorance and fear,” Schumer added.
GOP cries foul
Schumer also said the “historic nature” of Levine’s nomination “should not be lost on anyone, but Dr. Levine thoroughly deserves to be confirmed on the strength of her qualifications.”
Drawing on Levine’s experience as Pennsylvania’s physician general and secretary of health, not all Republicans agreed with Schumer’s messaging, however.
Among the loudest voices in opposition to Levine’s confirmation was North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R), who sits as ranking member on the Senate Health Committee.
Burr pointed to Levine’s role last year in responding to the coronavirus pandemic as evidence that the newly confirmed official isn’t up to the task.
“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,” Burr pressed Levine during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, according to The Hill.
Levine also had a contentious exchange during the hearing with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) over the issue of whether minors are capable of making the decision to undergo a gender transition.
“Do you support the government intervening to override the parents’ consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and/or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia?” Paul asked, according to the Daily Wire.
Levine reportedly refused to give a direct answer, however, instead merely saying that the issue is “very complex.”