Rachel Levine, who Pennsylvania secretary of health guided her state through the coronavirus, has been tapped to become assistant secretary for health under the Biden administration, setting her up to become the first openly transgender U.S. Senate-confirmed federal official.
The Biden transition team on Tuesday, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration as president, announced in a statement Levine was chosen for the senior health role, which is the No. 3 leadership position at the Department of Health & Human Services.
Biden hailed Levine in a statement announcing her nomination, which builds on several openly LGBTQ appointments, including Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary and Ned Price as State Department spokesperson.
“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. “She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts.”
No openly transgender person has ever sought or obtained confirmation by the Senate in U.S. history. In the Obama administration, Dylan Orr at Department of Labor and Amanda Simpson at the departments of energy and defense made history as the first openly transgender presidential appointees, but their roles didn’t require Senate approval. Trump, whose administration was marked by open hostility to the transgender community, had no openly transgender appointments.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris also hailed the nomination in a statement, saying Levine would contribute to the new administration’s effort to contain the raging coronavirus epidemic.
“Dr. Rachel Levine is 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,” Harris said. “President-elect Biden and I look forward to working with her to meet the unprecedented challenges facing Americans and rebuild our country in a way that lifts everyone up.”
The assistant secretary of health oversees the department’s key public health offices, a number of presidential and secretarial advisory committees, 10 regional health offices across the nation, and the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Biden’s appointment of Levine represents a stark contrast to the approach to transgender health issues compared to Trump, whose administration deleted from U.S. government websites guidance on transgender health and rescinded Obama-era regulations under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act barring discrimination against transgender people in health care.
Although speculation had persisted throughout the 2016 election Levine could be up for a position at the HHS if Biden won the election, she downplayed any prospect of leaving her position in Pennsylvania. During a conference call last week hosted by the Center for American Progress, Levine sidestepped a question from the Washington Blade about possibly obtaining an appointment as a senior health official.
“I am obviously very busy and really totally consumed with my current position, which is protecting the public health of Pennsylvania in the midst of the biggest global pandemic since 1918,” Levine said. “So, I’ve always been proud and privileged to serve in Gov. Wolf’s administration, and I’m fully committed to my current mission.”