US: Biden picks transgender Levine for key health role

Dr. Rachel Levine – Image: REUTERS/Daniel Shanken

(Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday named Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant US health secretary, a historic first, as Levine would become the first openly transgender official to be confirmed by the Senate.

The pick of Pennsylvania’s top health official for a critical role during the raging COVID-19 pandemic continues Biden’s pattern of selecting a historically diverse slate of leaders for senior administration roles.

Levine would serve under Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services. The professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine has led Pennsylvania’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, as the commonwealth’s top health official.

Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability,” Biden said in a statement.

Like Becerra, Levine’s nomination must be confirmed by the US Senate, which Biden’s fellow Democrats narrowly control.

In a statement, Biden’s transition team noted Levine had been confirmed three times by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state senate, and, if confirmed by the US Senate, she would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by US lawmakers.

“She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts,” Biden said, adding her expertise also included the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, and LGBTQ+ medicine, among other areas.

Levine joins other health-related nominees named to the incoming Biden administration in recent days, including former Food and Drug Administrator, David Kessler.

Biden has said tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic, and its economic fallout, is a top priority when he takes office Wednesday, unveiling plans to ramp up vaccinations and rev up the economy, with $1.9 trillion in stimulus funding.

-Susan Heavey and Trevor Hunnicutt

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