Former Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday as the Biden Administration’s assistant secretary of health.
Levine is the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.
Levine, a professor of pediatrics and psychology, served as Pennsylvania physician general from 2015 to 2017 and as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health from 2017 to 2021.
During her tenure as secretary, Levine led the state in its fight against the opioid epidemic and helped guide the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry. Following the spread of COVID-19 into the state, she also led Pennsylvania’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When nominating Levine in January, President Joe Biden called Levine a “Deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”
The Senate’s final vote on Wednesday was 52-48. Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey voted against the confirmation, citing the impact the pandemic had on Pennsylvania’s seniors.
“In Pennsylvania, the pandemic struck seniors in nursing homes disproportionately hard compared to other states,” Toomey said in a statement on Wednesday. “This was due in part to poor decisions and oversight by Dr. Levine and the Wolf administration.”
Levine’s handling of the pandemic was a hotly debated topic during her federal confirmation hearing where she was questioned about discrepancies in Pennsylvania’s public reports on nursing home COVID-19 deaths and cases
In a statement on Levine’s confirmation, Wolf said that Pennsylvania owes a great deal to Levine’s expertise and leadership.
“Dr. Levine was a valued member of my administration and served the people of Pennsylvania with wisdom, courage and dedication as Physician General and Secretary of Health,” said Wolf. “I was proud to serve alongside her. Dr. Levine’s commitment to protecting the public health and safety is unmatched, and I am grateful for her tireless work during the COVID-19 pandemic.”