The Senate confirmed former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Wednesday to serve as the next assistant secretary of health, marking the first confirmation of an openly transgender person to a federal role.
New York Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer celebrated Levine’s approval in the Senate as a breakthrough for LGBT Americans.
“The confirmation of Rachel Levine represents another important milestone for the American LGBTQ community,” Schumer said on the chamber floor.
Levine’s confirmation, supported by Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who joined Democrats in a 52-48 vote, also signals indifference to science and merit.
As head of the Pennsylvania Health Department, Levine, a biological man who underwent transition in 2011, jammed COVID-stricken patients into nursing homes and then blamed the Centers for Disease Control for the decision when criticized by Republicans. Nearly 13,000 deaths from the novel Wuhan coronavirus in Pennsylvania are linked to long-term care facilities, according to the state’s latest reported data.
Last spring, however, Levine pulled his own 95-year-old mother from a nursing home and moved her into a hotel as Levine’s Health Department forced COVID patients into such facilities.
On testing, Pennsylvania, under Levine’s management, has underperformed and has ranked with one of the lowest testing rates in the region, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project on 17 states, from Maine to Indiana to North Carolina.
Levine, however, a proponent of religious mask-wearing through the end of the year despite vaccine availability, garnered the approval of enough upper-chamber lawmakers and two Republicans to serve as one of the nation’s health chiefs.
At Levine’s confirmation hearing in February, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul pressed the controversial nominee on his endorsement of gender reassignment surgery.
“According to the WHO, gender mutilation is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights,” Paul said. “American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones to prevent the biological development of their secondary sexual characteristics. … Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”
Levine declined to offer a real answer.
“Thank you for your interest in this question. Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field,” Levine said. “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I will look forward to working with you and your office.”