Historic selection: Biden taps transgender Pa. Health Secretary for federal post

This Week in Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — President-elect Joe Biden has poached Pennsylvania’s health secretary to be part of his administration, and if confirmed, Dr. Rachel Levine would make history.

She was Pennsylvania’s face of the coronavirus pandemic. Day after day in those early days of uncertainty, Levine’s daily press conferences carried statewide.

Dr. Levine updated, reassured, and reminded Pennsylvanians to wash hands and keep distance. Apparently the Pennsylvania-born President-elect noticed.

Joe Biden has tapped Dr. Levine to be Assistant Secretary of Health.

Said in a statement, Dr. 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.”

Levine needs Senate approval, but she already has Bob Casey’s vote. “She is exactly the kind of crisis-tested leader our nation needs in the position,” Casey said.

The Pa. Secretary of Health would be the first transgender person confirmed by the Senate.

“President-elect Biden has committed to an administration that looks like America,” said Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

Gonzales is thrilled by Levine’s appointment but worries about an ugly confirmation fight.

“During the last four years, the Trump Administration has shown the will to demonize the trans community to win political points with people who don’t understand who trans people are or are afraid of trans people,” Gonzales said.

State Senator Judy Ward says Levine’s orientation isn’t the issue, her qualifications are. She points to a staggering number of COVID deaths in Pa. nursing homes.

“I have concerns about the job that she has done here in Pennsylvania,” Ward said. “Many of those can be attributed to the fact that she made nursing homes take COVID-positive patients.”

Ward also questions Levine’s rollout of the vaccine.

“Other states are well beyond and past us. I see a lot of flaws,” Ward said.

But Governor Wolf, who picked the state’s first transgender Cabinet member, said he couldn’t be prouder of Levine and all Pennsylvanians.

“Owe her a debt of gratitude for her leadership, strength, and dedication to protecting every person’s health amid unprecedented circumstances – and, at times, amid hateful distractions,” Wolf said in a statement.

Levine is a Harvard graduate who was a pediatrician before she became the state’s physician general and then health secretary.

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