President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, was questioned about his ties to the pharmaceutical industry by Democrats on a key Senate committee on Wednesday ahead of a vote on whether to advance his nomination for a vote by the full Senate.
Gottlieb, 44, is a former FDA deputy commissioner who has advocated a loosening of requirements needed for approval of new medical products. He is also a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, a partner at a large venture capital fund and sits on the boards of multiple healthcare companies.
Democrats on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, questioned whether Gottlieb's ties to the pharmaceutical industry would compromise his ability to act impartially.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Democrats had "a level of discomfort" with Gottlieb's nomination, not just due to his private industry background but because of his prior activity as a political advisor to Republican presidential candidates and opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
"The worry about impartiality is certainly connected to the private sector experience but it's also to your very deep political involvement as well," Murphy said.
Gottlieb acknowledged the concern but said he would "work hard to make sure I preserve my impartiality" and that he wanted to "earn and keep the public trust."
In an ethics disclosure form filed last month Gottlieb said he would resign from multiple corporate boards, divest his healthcare company holdings and resign from the company boards he sits on.
Overall, the hearing went smoothly for Gottlieb and covered his views on clinical trials, e-cigarettes, the lipoid epidemic and vaccines.
If approved by the committee Gottlieb's nomination will go to the Senate floor for a full vote. He is generally expected to be approved.
(Reporting by Toni Clarke; Editing by Alistair Bell)