Florida surgeon general favorably recommended after Democrats walk out of confirmation hearing

A contentious confirmation hearing for Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo ended abruptly Wednesday after Democrats walked out in protest, prompting Republicans to immediately vote to favorably recommend Ladapo.

Democrats grew increasingly exasperated at Ladapo for his lengthy, circular responses that wouldn’t directly answer their questions about his background and the state’s response to the pandemic.
Five times state Sen. Lauren Book asked Ladapo if vaccines worked against the coronavirus. Ladapo refused to say.
    “Do the vaccines work against preventing Covid-19? Yes or no?” Book, a Democrat from Plantation, asked.
      Ladapo responded: “Yes or no questions are not that easy to find in science.”
        He later conceded that the vaccines have “relatively high effectiveness for the prevention of hospitalization.” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that in November, unvaccinated adults had 15 times the risk of dying from Covid-19 compared with fully vaccinated adults. In the same month, unvaccinated adults had 68 times the risk of dying from Covid-19 compared with fully vaccinated adults who had received booster doses.
        Ladapo, who was appearing before the state Senate Health Policy Committee, also declined to say if he regretted not wearing a mask when in the presence of state Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat. Polsky has been diagnosed with breast cancer and asked Ladapo to wear a mask during their meeting. He declined, earning a rebuke from state Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican.
          He also would not answer questions about the decision by the state Department of Health to suspend Orange County’s top public health official. Dr. Raul Pino was placed on administrative leave after he sent an email criticizing his colleagues for the department’s low vaccination rate.
          Ladapo did not discuss details of the case, citing an ongoing investigation, but he assured the Senate panel Pino was “absolutely not placed on administrative leave for any reasons that were potentially political, or related to anything other than the policies that we have at the Department of Health.”
          Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Ladapo to be the state’s top doctor in September. Since then, Ladapo has helped lead the state Department of Health’s crackdown on mask mandates in schools and against vaccine mandates by private businesses.
          In Florida, the surgeon general must be confirmed by the state Senate, though DeSantis can reappoint Ladapo if the full chamber declines to take up his nomination during the current legislative session.
          Ladapo, who has taken controversial stances on coronavirus mitigation measures like masks and vaccines, told state senators on Wednesday that he was committed to improving the health of Floridians by “applying scientific data, evidence-based strategy and a sensible approach to public health.”
          Democrats on the committee immediately raised questions about Ladapo’s credentials to run the state’s top public health agency. Ladapo comes to Florida from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where he worked as a physician and clinical researcher, but not in public health.
          Ladapo insisted he has “dedicated my professional career to issues of important public health relevance” and noted his coursework at Harvard, where he graduated from medical school and earned an advanced degree in health policy.
          As the hearing continued, Democrats frequently cut off Ladapo’s long answers and accused him of not answering their questions.
          “What I hear is arrogance and polite avoidance,” state Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa. “Can we just get straight answers so we can get more information?”
            At the 80-minute mark, Book, the Senate Democratic leader, said they weren’t getting adequate answers and would no longer participate in the hearing. She and her Democratic colleagues then walked out.
            Republicans responded by immediately calling for a vote on Ladapo’s confirmation. He was recommended favorably by the Senate Health Policy Committee without any further questions, public input or debate. Democrats did not vote.

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