WASHINGTON – The Senate Trade Committee on Thursday approved President Joe Biden’s appointment of Eric Lander as chief science adviser, one of the last Cabinet vacancies in the Biden administration.
Lander, a geneticist and founding director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, was the lead author of the first article announcing the details of the human genome, the so-called “Book of Life.” He was made director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, a post Biden elevated to Cabinet.
Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Chair of the trade committee, said she wanted Biden to appoint a woman for the job, but said Lander is committed to working to uplift women and minorities in science.
âDr. Lander and I have come to a focus and understand that the very first task that (he) should focus on is helping all of us add the diversity of women and minorities in science, ” Cantwell said. âSo he and I are going to be working aggressively on this. ”
Lander’s nomination was approved by voice vote. Six Republicans opposed Lander, including Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who said during her confirmation hearing that Lander’s meetings with the late Jeffrey Epstein, a disgraced financier accused of sex trafficking before his apparent suicide, were ” extremely worrying “.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Who led the confirmation hearing in Cantwell’s absence, told Lander she was “troubled” by his encounters with Epstein, as well as allegations that he downplayed the contributions of two Nobel Prize-winning women scientists. .
Lander apologized for an essay he wrote that downplayed the work of women scientists and called Epstein a “dreadful person.”
He never requested or received funds from Epstein or his foundation, Lander said. âThe sum total of my interactions (with Epstein) was that I met him briefly at two events over the span of three weeks in the spring of 2012,â Lander said at the April 29 hearing.
No senator mentioned Epstein or any allegations against Lander at Thursday’s committee meeting.
Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., Called Lander a “visionary scientist and thinker” and “a pioneer who sees unanswered questions not as barriers, but as a range of possibilities.”
âLander’s breadth of knowledge, unmatched experience and innovative spirit make him uniquely suited to lead,â said Markey.
Lander, also a mathematician, is a professor of biology at both Harvard and MIT and his work has been cited nearly half a million times in scientific literature, one of the most among scientists. He has won numerous science awards, including a MacArthur âgeniusâ scholarship and a breakthrough award, and is one of Pope Francis’ scientific advisers.
Panel approval authorizes the nomination of a possible Senate confirmation vote.
If approved, Lander would almost end Biden’s cabinet. The only vacant Cabinet post is that of Director of the Bureau of Management and Budget. Shalanda Young served as CAMO’s Interim Director after her confirmation as Deputy Director. Neera Tanden withdrew her nomination as head of the OMB after several senators said they would not vote for her.
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