President nominates new FDA commissioner
Two senators threatened to put a hold on the nomination.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush on Wednesday nominated Andrew von Eschenbach as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, the agency the urology surgeon has led on an acting basis since September.
His promotion, however, ran into immediate trouble because of a dispute over the FDA's position on emergency contraceptive pills.
Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y, said they would place a hold on von Eschenbach's nomination until the FDA decides whether to allow over-the-counter sales of Plan B pills. They now are sold only by prescription.
As in this case, the hold often is used not to defeat a nomination but to raise an issue important to those objecting. The Senate can overcome a hold through a time-consuming process and a motion requiring a 60-vote majority.
Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt promised senators last year that the FDA would decide whether to relax the sales restrictions on Plan B. Clinton and Murray then lifted their hold on Lester Crawford, allowing the Senate to approve his nomination to lead the FDA.
Crawford ended up postponing indefinitely any decision on Plan B. He resigned in September, just two months after his confirmation.
"We were rudely surprised when the FDA announced it would further study the decision, so we are putting everybody on notice that we are placing a hold on this nomination and will not lift it until we have a decision," Clinton said.
Von Eschenbach, 64, would become the third FDA commissioner under Bush, following Crawford and Mark McClellan, now the top Medicare and Medicaid official. Leavitt said von Eschenbach was an "inspired choice to provide permanent leadership at this critical agency."
In confirmed, von Eschenbach intends to step down as director of the National Cancer Institute, which he has led since 2002, HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said.
His holding both jobs had raised questions of a possible conflict of interest.
Von Eschenbach was chief academic officer of the University of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston before he left to take over the NCI. The Philadelphia native has survived three cancer diagnoses: melanoma, prostate cancer and basal cell carcinoma.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, said he would hold confirmation hearings as quickly as possible.
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