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President-elect Joe Biden selected Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to be assistant Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, which will make Levine the first transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate to a presidential administration.
“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.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said 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.”
If confirmed, Levine will serve under HHS Secretary-designee Xavier Becerra.
The Victory Institute, an LGBT advocacy group, had been lobbying for Levine to get a spot in the Biden administration, ideally as surgeon general.
“I think there is a value in giving visibility to doctors like Dr. Levine who are kind of unique in their field. Not just because of their demographics and who they are but also because of their expertise,” said Robin Gonzalez of the Victory Institute, according to local WLVR.
“We also know that when people know LGBTQ people it makes them more open to supporting our equality,” Gonzalez added.
Levine has repeatedly stoked outrage in Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic. After ordering nursing homes and long-term care facilities to accept COVID-19 positive residents or face disciplinary action, Levine drew scrutiny last May for removing his own mother out of a personal care home as the coronavirus was devastating the state’s elderly populations.
In August, Levine outraged even Democratic state lawmakers when Pittsburgh NBC affiliate WPXI uncovered legal documents proving that Levine had come to a confidential settlement agreement with a car show in Harrisburg that allowed them to skirt the lockdown. Citing it as an “ongoing legal issue,” Levine refused repeated opportunities to explain why tens of thousands were allowed to shuffle through the car show’s four-day event during a time when outdoor gatherings were limited to 250 people or fewer.
In June, after Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf participated in a protest in Harrisburg when such gatherings were prohibited, Levine defended the governor’s apparent hypocrisy, saying, “The governor has always said that people have the right to protest and to demonstrate, and the right to free speech, and so overall, we want large gatherings such as maybe a party or some type of concert or something, to be under 250 people.”
“But, we are not restricting people’s right to protest,” Levine added. “There are all obviously significant social issues that are present, that people feel that they need to have a voice, and so the governor is always supportive of that and is participating.”
Most recently, at the behest of Levine, Wolf ordered Pennsylvanians to wear masks even in their own homes and banned alcohol sales in the state on the night before Thanksgiving. Levine has also claimed that masks could be necessary for Pennsylvanians until the end of 2021.
This is why you have reporters at press conferences. Levine is asked about @GovernorTomWolf calling officials coward and then marching today in Harrisburg. Wait for the end. pic.twitter.com/6VkaYyMpwr
— Real_Dave_La_Torre 🍿 (@David_LaTorre) June 3, 2020
Levine and other Pennsylvania Democrats have arguably used Levine’s gender identity as a political bludgeon against critics. In May, Levine snapped at radio personality Marty Griffin when he repeatedly called Levine “sir.” Griffin apologized profusely in response and maintained that he used the wrong pronoun unintentionally, though he did not escape accusations of transphobia. As punishment, Democratic Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto subsequently canceled an interview on Griffin’s radio station.
When a county fair in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, featured a dunk tank with a man dressed as a woman in July, Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) went on Twitter to scold those who said he resembled Levine. “Dr. Levine is an honorable public servant whose tireless work to keep PA safe and healthy has saved countless lives,” Casey said. “She is owed an apology.” In a three-tweet thread, Wolf admonished his readers that “hate has no place in Pennsylvania.”
Wolf also lashed out at Trump campaign adviser Jenna Ellis after she called Levine a guy. “To [Ellis] and whoever else needs to hear this: Misgendering a transgender person is hate speech and it’s unacceptable,” Wolf said. The Human Rights Campaign called Ellis “a bigot.”
As The Daily Wire reported, Ellis responded in part, “To be called a bigot for simply acknowledging scientific fact is both hilarious and tragic.”