Rachel Levine first transgender person to earn Senate confirmation to federal post

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm the nomination of former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to serve as President Joe Biden’s assistant secretary of health, making her the first openly transgender woman to earn Senate confirmation to a federal post.

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The Senate voted 52-48 to confirm her nomination Wednesday.

In her confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Levine vowed to focus on controlling the spread of COVID-19 and earned praise for her leadership in responding to the coronavirus pandemic as Pennsylvania’s secretary of health.

“Dr. Levine led Pennsylvania’s pandemic response with a commitment to transparency and science—and at our hearing she made clear that she would bring this same commitment to the Department of Health and Human Services,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the HELP Committee, said last week in a statement.

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Levine also faced criticism from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who questioned her advocacy of hormone therapy for minors, comparing it to genital mutilation, according to CNN. Levine noted that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care,” and promised to discuss the issue further with Paul if confirmed, according to The Washington Post.

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Levine, who earned degrees from Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, previously worked as a physician specializing in pediatric and adolescent medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and Lenox Hill Hospital. After moving to Pennsylvania in the 1990s, she began working at the Penn State College of Medicine and the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, where she started programs aimed at enhancing adolescent care.

In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Senate voted unanimously to confirm Levine’s nomination as physician general for Pennsylvania, a role she held until 2017. In July of that year, lawmakers confirmed her nomination to serve as secretary of health for the state, a post she held until January.