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Both New Hampshire Senators Voted Against Confirming HHS Sec. Alex Azar

Senators have reservations that a former “Big Pharma” executive will do anything to combat rising prescription drug prices and the opioid epidemic. 

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan both voted against confirming Alex Azar as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Azar was ultimately confirmed by a 55-43 vote, mostly along party lines.

ABC News reports, “Six Democratic senators and one independent voted to confirm Azar: Democrats Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and independent Angus King of Maine.”

After the vote, Senator Hassan had this to say:

“Communities across New Hampshire and the entire country continue to grapple with the devastating opioid epidemic, but the Trump Administration has failed to lead, including by not calling for additional federal resources. I was disappointed that Mr. Azar would not commit to advocating for new funding during his confirmation hearing. Considering his tenure as a top executive at a major pharmaceutical company, I also continue to have serious doubts that Mr. Azar can be a leader in addressing the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. The Department of Health and Human Services needs a secretary who will focus on the health and well-being of hard-working Granite Staters, not someone who will continue the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine our health care system, and unfortunately, Mr. Azar has not proven that he can be that leader.”

During Mr. Azar’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, Senator Hassan pressed the nominee (click here for video) on the need for additional funding to combat the opioid crisis and raised concerns about his commitment to lowering skyrocketing prescription drug prices given his close ties to pharmaceutical companies.

Prior to the vote, Senator Shaheen took to the Senate floor to voice her opposition to Azar, who has a lengthy record of increasing drug prices during his tenure in the pharmaceutical industry, and who has stated his intention to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Shaheen underscored Mr. Azar’s alarming history as a pharmaceutical executive, where he opposed government regulations on prescription drug pricing and saw net prices of pharmaceuticals manufactured by his former company increase by double digit percentages. Shaheen highlighted how Mr. Azar’s big pharma ties and government hands-off approach threaten efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, referring to dramatic price increases for Narcan, the antidote that reverses opioid overdoses.

Shaheen also warned that Mr. Azar’s stated intention to dismantle the Affordable Care Act risks curtailing the opioid response, stating, “He apparently does not appreciate that the Affordable Care Act – the Medicaid expansion in particular – has been an absolutely critical tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic… As we all know, the opioid epidemic is a nationwide crisis, with some 63,000 Americans killed by drug overdoses in 2016.  But New Hampshire has been hit especially hard.  The demise of the Affordable Care Act, which Mr. Azar says he wants, would mean that thousands of Granite Staters would lose access to treatment, with devastating consequences.”

Through the Medicaid expansion, nearly 11,000 Granite Staters have gained access to treatment for substance use disorders.

Shaheen reaffirmed the need to put public interest and public safety above special interests, stating, “Between Mr. Azar’s coziness with the pharmaceutical industry, his disdain for the Affordable Care Act, which is the law of the land and which Mr. Azar would be charged with administering as Secretary, I think he is the wrong person to serve in the critically important post of Secretary of Health and Human Services.”

As the lead Democrat on the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Shaheen has led efforts in Congress to combat the opioid epidemic. Shaheen continues to fight for funding to combat the opioid crisis. She also recently introduced bipartisan funding legislation to prioritize states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, including New Hampshire, and has consistently called on the Trump administration to take meaningful action as the public health emergency continues to devastate Granite State communities.

Hassan And Shaheen Vote Against Scott Gottlieb’s Confirmation To Head The FDA

Today, prior to the confirmation vote, Senator Maggie Hassan spoke on the Senate floor, voicing her opposition to President Trump’s nominee for Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb. (Video below)

“Gottlieb, a physician and venture capitalist with long ties to the pharmaceutical industry, served as a deputy FDA commissioner and a high-ranking official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the George W. Bush administration,” wrote the Washington Post. 

“It is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration – starting with its Commissioner – to protect consumers and stand up for public health. I have serious concerns about Dr. Gottlieb’s record… [and] his stances on critical priorities for people in New Hampshire and across the nation,” Senator Hassan said on the floor today.

In her remarks, Senator Hassan highlighted the heroin, fentanyl, and opioid epidemic that is devastating communities and the economy in New Hampshire, stemming in part from the overprescribing of opioids. The Senator emphasized the importance of the FDA in helping to combat substance misuse through the creation of risk evaluation and mitigation strategies (REMS), which include prescriber training. Senator Hassan voiced concern with Gottlieb’s opposition to the creation of REMS, raising questions about what strategies the FDA would support under his leadership if confirmed.

“[The] FDA should be making REMS stronger and make sure that all opioid medications have REMS – we don’t need a Commissioner who opposed the very creation of the REMS program…In the midst of a public health challenge as serious as this epidemic, we should be taking – and we have to take – an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Senator Hassan added.

Additionally, Senator Hassan expressed concern with Gottlieb’s record of “putting politics ahead of science when it comes to women’s health,” noting that during his time in the Bush administration, Gottlieb was involved in a controversial and unscientifically-based delay in approving the emergency contraceptive Plan B for over-the-counter use.

“Unfortunately, [the Trump] Administration has made clear that it is focused on an agenda that restricts women’s access to critical health services, including family planning. Dr. Gottlieb’s record has demonstrated that he supports this backwards agenda… I am concerned that under his leadership, the FDA will play political games with women’s health once again,” Senator Hassan said.

Noting Gottlieb’s troubling record of neglecting science at the expense of protecting public health and consumer safety, Senator Hassan concluded, “Mr. President, Dr. Gottlieb’s nomination raises too many questions about whether he will put political interests ahead of science and ahead of the safety of consumers… In voting today, I cannot overlook that record, so I will vote against his nomination, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen also opposed Gottlieb’s nomination and followed through by voting no on his confirmation.

“It’s the job of the FDA, at the direction of the commissioner, to protect American consumers and ensure our food and drugs are safe. After reviewing Dr. Gottlieb’s record, I am not confident that his policies and vision for the FDA align with the needs of my constituents in New Hampshire,” said Senator Shaheen. “When Dr. Gottlieb enters the FDA as its commissioner, he will bring with him a complex web of conflicting interests with the pharmaceutical industry. Just as alarming, he holds antiquated beliefs about contraception and family planning based on politics, not science.”

“Dr. Gottlieb has advocated for a pharmaceutical company to obtain additional fentanyl for a consumer product and has voiced strong opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which has helped tens of thousands of Granite Staters receive treatment for substance misuse. His troubling negligence towards America’s opioid crisis confirms that I cannot in good conscience support his nomination.”

The Senate did vote to confirm Dr Gottlieb with a vote of 57-42, largely along party lines.

Democracy Fails As Executive Councilors Vote To Confirm Edelblut, Against Constituents Overwhelming Objections

Today our elected representatives have failed us and took another step toward the destruction of our democracy.

With a party line vote of 3-2, the NH Executive Council voted to confirm, the completely unqualified Frank Edelblut, as Commissioner of Education against the wishes of their own constituents.

“Republicans on the Executive Council let down Granite State students and young families today by confirming Frank Edelblut, despite overwhelming grassroots opposition, a vote of no confidence by the State Board of Education, and a remarkably unqualified resume for this important position,” said Granite State teacher Matthew Gerding.

“As a school teacher and a young LGBT Granite Stater hoping to raise my family here, I find it incredibly disheartening to see Republican leaders chose to confirm someone who opposes full-day kindergarten, refuses to oppose the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, and calls education a ‘product’ not a public good.”

“Governor Sununu has taken every opportunity in his short time in office to turn young people away from our state. From nominating Mr. Edelblut, to raising tuitions at our state and community colleges in his budget, Governor Sununu is sending a clear message that he values politics over people,” concluded Gerding.

“Like DeVos, Edelblut has no experience or inter­action with the public education system of New Hampshire. Overseeing a state department of education requires an in-depth knowl­edge of how public schools are governed, how they are man­aged, and the challenges employees in public schools face. Mr. Edelblut possesses no such knowledge or experience. Other than overseeing the management functions of the employees under his direct supervision, the business skills Mr. Edelblut possess are not transferable to ensuring our children’s educational experi­ence is exceptional. Our chil­dren’s futures are too important to rely on someone who cannot hit the ground running on day one,” stated NEA-New Hampshire.

“Educators throughout New Hampshire strive to reach every child in their classroom, develop effective and engaging lesson plans, spend hours correcting papers and encouraging students to keep persevering. Every day for educators the theory and practice of pedagogy becomes real in the lives of the young people entrusted to their care. To have the highest ranking education official in the state bring only system level management and communication skills to the job threatens the future of every public school student in New Hampshire,” continued NEA-NH.

“The fundamental promise of a great public education for all students is under attack here, and across the country,” said Megan Tuttle, NEA-NH Vice-president. “We’re not just arguing over budget questions any longer; we’re in a full-on ideolog­ical battle with people who do not believe that every child deserves the same opportunity to succeed.”

“We are disappointed that a majority of the Executive Council did not listen to voices of thousands of parents and educators across the state or to the concerns expressed by the NH Board of Education about the appointment of Frank Edelblut as our next Commissioner of Education,” stated Doug Ley, President of AFT-NH. “We remain gravely concerned about a Commissioner of Education who, when running for governor, supported further diverting much needed funding and resources from our public schools.   There still has been presented no evidence, after a lengthy public hearing, to suggest Mr. Edelblut either has the experience or qualifications in education to lead NH schools and serve more than 180,000 students, our State’s most precious resource.”

“Our teachers and school district employees pour their hearts into the education of NH’s students, are highly trained and have dedicated a lifetime to serving NH students. They deserve a Commissioner who cares deeply about public education.”

“AFT-NH will remain vigilant in protecting our public schools and our cherished public education system in NH. We will always extend a hand to anyone, including Mr. Edelblut, willing to strengthen and support public schools but we will speak up and act in fierce opposition to any extreme agenda or attack on our schools. We sincerely hope that Mr. Edelblut will retreat from his past positions and start anew by listening to NH parents, educators and stakeholders in our schools,” concluded Ley.

“During the confirmation process, Frank Edelblut demonstrated he lacks both experience with and support for our state’s public schools,” wrote Executive Councilor Chris Pappas just after the vote. “It is clear that Mr. Edelblut is unable to be the type of non-partisan, consensus-building commissioner that our education system deserves. He holds political views on a range of issues that place him outside the mainstream, from his opposition to full-day kindergarten to support for gay conversion therapy. We do not need a commissioner who will interject ideology into the role, and I didn’t receive assurances that he would abandon past positions or steer clear of political activities after he is confirmed.”

It is plainly clear that the confirmation vote for Edelblut was purely partisan politics as usual. Two of the Executive Councilors openly admitted that they would vote to confirm despite overwhelming opposition to Edelblut’s nomination.

“Executive Councilors Joseph Kenney and Russell Prescott told us all about the concerns they heard from parents and educators about Frank Edelblut. Instead of listening to their constituents, they decided to put in earplugs and vote to confirm him in a blindly political move,” said NHDP Chairman Ray Buckley. “It’s shameful that Governor Sununu didn’t consult the Board of Education before he made the pick. Instead, he followed the Trump model by appointing an unqualified businessman rather than looking out for the future of New Hampshire.”

“We are disappointed that Executive Councilors Russ Prescott, Joe Kenney, and David Wheeler decided to rubber stamp Governor Sununu’s blatantly unqualified nominee despite widespread opposition from the State Board of Education and their constituents,” stated Zandra Rice-Hawkins, Executive Director of Granite State Progress. “Councilors Kenney and Prescott specifically mentioned that their constituents were overwhelming in opposition to Frank Edelblut before going on to say that they would vote for him anyway.

“Community members should be on notice that Prescott and Kenney fully acknowledged that they were voting against their constituents on this nomination,” Rice-Hawkins added.

It is obscene that our elected representatives are completely ignoring the will of the people in a partisan political vote. It takes a lot to get people to engage in politics, especially when it comes to political appointments like this. Yet hundreds if not thousands of Granite Staters took the time to write letters, emails, and call their Executive Councilors asking them to oppose Edelblut’s nomination.

To Councilors Prescott and Kenney, those constituents do not matter.

This is where democracy dies. When our elected leaders only do what is good for their political careers and reject the will of the people we can no longer say we live in a democracy. The people spoke out and overwhelmingly opposed Frank Edelblut’s nomination, yet they confirmed him anyway.

This is a sad day for the future of our public schools and our democracy.

I would like to join Granite State Progress in saying:

“We thank Councilors Andru Volinsky and Chris Pappas for standing with the majority of constituents and experts who voiced concern over Governor Sununu’s unqualified nominee.”

(Featured image of Russ Prescott by Granite State Progress on Twitter)

Senator Hassan Votes Against Betsy DeVos’ Nomination in HELP Committee

 WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Maggie Hassan released the following statement after voting in opposition to the nomination of President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee:

“Yesterday, I visited Souhegan High School in Amherst, a shining example of what can be achieved when our public schools are adequately supported. Unfortunately, throughout the hearing process Betsy DeVos has shown that she lacks both experience with and support for public education, and that she would pursue policies that would undermine public schools like Souhegan across New Hampshire and America. Mrs. DeVos’ support for diverting taxpayer dollars to private, religious and for-profit schools without accountability requirements is unacceptable, as is her failure to understand the challenges facing students with disabilities. Additionally, her unresolved conflicts of interest call into question whether she will put America’s students before her own financial interests. I am encouraged by the enormous grassroots opposition to Mrs. DeVos’ nomination, and I continue to urge my colleagues to listen to the voices of their constituents and oppose Mrs. DeVos’ nomination when it reaches the Senate floor.”

During the HELP Committee confirmation hearing for Mrs. DeVos, Senator Maggie Hassan questioned the nominee on her commitment to protecting students who experience disabilities. Not only did Mrs. DeVos fail to commit to enforcing the law to protect students with disabilities, but she also admitted that she was confused about whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law.

In an attempt at damage control, Mrs. DeVos later released a letter that did nothing to reassure that she will enforce the IDEA or ensure that all students receive a free and appropriate education.

While the committee did ultimately vote to confirm DeVos, straight down party lines, she will still need to be confirmed by the entire Senate.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is one of the many Democrats who is pushing hard against DeVos’s confirmation.

“As a parent, a former public school teacher, a governor and a senator, I’ve always cared deeply about providing equal opportunity for our children,” said Shaheen. “I was dismayed by many of Ms. DeVos’s answers during her confirmation hearing. At a very minimum, our next Secretary of Education should be able to commit to enforcing current law that protects and provides opportunities to students with disabilities. Her answer to Senator Hassan’s questioning on this subject was entirely unacceptable. Throughout her confirmation hearing, she did not express a real commitment to our nation’s public schools which are the best opportunity for kids from all walks of life to get the education they deserve. I cannot in good conscience support her nomination and will also strongly urge my colleagues to oppose her nomination.”

Be sure to contact your Senators today  at (202) 224-3121 and tell them not to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Senate Vote Ensures Continued Labor Law for 80 Million Workers

Washington, DC – Following is a statement by the Democracy Initiative on today’s Senate vote confirming three Democratic members to the National Labor Relations Board. The Democracy Initiative has brought together labor, environmental, civil rights and democracy groups to fight to fix the broken Senate rules, get corporate money out of politics and expand voting rights.

Today’s action by the U.S. Senate means that for the first time in a decade, the National Labor Relations Board will have a Senate-confirmed, fully functioning Board.

The three Democratic members confirmed by the Senate today are Mark Pearce, Nancy Schiffer, and Kent HIrozawa. The Senate quickly confirmed Republicans Harry Johnson and Phil Miscimarra.

Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen said today’s Senate action is “long overdue. President Obama began his second term without a Democratic majority on the NLRB, and for workers that has meant continued delay in workplace justice, whether to enforce their bargaining rights or protect them from an employer’s illegal action. Today’s Senate action is a step toward justice for 80 million private sector workers.”

Nearly all Senate Democrats stood strong to force the Republican minority to stop the obstruction that kept too many of the President’s executives nominations waiting for Senate action for as long as two years.  That means that this Labor Day, 80 million workers will continue to have the protections of federal law and that the only agency that can enforce workplace rights will be fully functional.

The Democracy Initiative, founded by CWA, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and NAACP, now includes 60 like-minded organizations committed to stopping the abuse of Senate rules, ending corrupting influence of corporate money in politics and turning around the attack on voter rights.

These issues are linked. We are a nation with the lowest voter registration level at just 70 percent, the lowest collective bargaining rate at just 11 percent and the highest rate of corporate spending in our election process. Members of the Democracy Initiative know that Americans are up against a right-wing agenda of no voting rights, no bargaining rights and no limits on corporate spending in our democratic process. That’s the fight we’re in to win.

CWA: HELP Committee Moves NLRB Nominees to Full Senate Vote

CWA LogoWashington, DC – With today’s votes by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee approving the nominations of Democrats Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa, all five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board now proceed to full Senate confirmation.

The Communications Workers of America appreciates the commitment and efforts of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to ensure that 80 million private sector workers will continue to have a fully functioning NLRB to turn to for economic justice.

American workers deserve a strong, functioning and full-strength NLRB, not Senate obstruction and gridlock. The expected vote by the full Senate to confirm five nominees will be welcome news to workers who know that the Board is the only agency that enforces the law and safeguards their rights on the job.

The five nominees are Democrats Schiffer and HIrozawa, and Chairman Mark Pearce, and Republicans Phil Miscimarra and Harry Johnson.

At the close of the hearing, Chairman Harkin reminded his colleagues and others of the purpose of the National Labor Relations Act by reading part of Section 1 of the law.

“It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.” (Emphasis added.)

The confirmation of a full NLRB is a first step toward justice for 80 million workers.

CWA Commends Senate For Confirmation Of Tom Perez (DOL)

Thomas Perez, Photo courtesy of US DOJ

Thomas Perez,
Photo courtesy of US DOJ

Washington, D.C. — The Communications Workers of America commends the Senate for its confirmation of Tom Perez to head the U.S. Department of Labor. This exceptional nominee was forced to wait far too long for the Senate to act but CWA is encouraged that some nominations now are moving forward.

Perez is a strong advocate for working Americans and will ensure that job safety and health, wage and hour provisions and other safeguards for workers are enforced. Working families, through no fault of their own, were hit hard by the economic crisis, and millions of workers still face a tough road as they look for work or to improve their economic standing.  Perez will not only safeguard workers’ rights but he will push for greater opportunity in the workplace and economic justice for all.

Throughout his career in public service, whether at the U.S. Department of Justice or Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, Perez has focused on protecting Americans from discrimination in the workplace, in the voting booth and in their dealings with financial institutions.

As chair of the board of CASA de Maryland, a key CWA ally in the fight for democracy and economic justice, he worked to expand opportunity for all.


That is the Secretary of Labor that working Americans deserve.

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