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Biden HHS pick Rachel Levine would be first out transgender Senate-confirmed federal official

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Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine is poised to become the first out transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate for a federal post.

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be his assistant secretary of health, putting her in position to become the first out transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.

A pediatrician and former Pennsylvania physician general, Levine was appointed to her current post by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017, making her one of the few transgender people serving in elected or appointed positions in the U.S. She won past confirmation by the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate and has emerged as the public face of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Rachel 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 — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”

A graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School, Levine is president of the Assn. of State and Territorial Health Officials. She has written in the past on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medical issues.

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Biden and his transition team have already begun negotiating with members of Congress to try to secure speedy passage of his $1.9-trillion plan to tame COVID-19, which has killed nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. The package would enlist federal emergency personnel to run mass-vaccination centers, provide 100 million COVID-19 shots in his administration’s first 100 days and use government spending to stimulate the economy.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris called Levine “a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and experience to help us contain this pandemic, and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday outlined a more centralized federal push for vaccines against COVID-19, including a call to allow people over 65 to be inoculated now.

Levine joins Biden’s Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, who is currently California’s attorney general.

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A spokesperson for the Biden transition team also said Tuesday that Dawn O’Connell would serve as senior counselor for coronavirus response to the Health and Human Services secretary. O’Connell most recently served as director of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and was the senior counselor and deputy chief of staff to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell during the Obama administration.


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