WASHINGTON — Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland has not had a formal interview with President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team for National Institutes of Health director or any other position in the administration, he told STAT.
“I’m not making a pitch,” Harris said in an interview. “I just made it clear to some folks who do health care with the Trump team that I would be willing to help, if they thought I could help in any way.”
Harris pointed to three positions in particular that he’s not pitching himself for: NIH director, surgeon general, and the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Science and CQ Roll Call had both previously reported that Harris was interested in replacing Francis Collins, the NIH’s director since 2009, and that he had relayed those feelings to Trump’s team.
Collins is the preferred choice of many research groups, and following the reports of Harris’s interest, a group of top Republicans wrote an open letter to Trump advocating for Collins to remain. Collins later told STAT he would stay in the post if asked.
An obstetric anesthesiologist who holds three degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Harris is the only member of Congress to have conducted NIH-funded research. He has advocated for lowering the average age of NIH grant recipients, citing evidence that scientific breakthroughs are most likely to occur in a scientist’s late 30s.
And he told STAT he would like to see more “high-risk, high-reward” research done by the NIH. He has also supported further study of the medical merits of marijuana.
On the other hand, he largely opposes embryonic stem-cell research, which could prove to be a contentious point among the advisers guiding the president-elect on science.
Harris, who has represented Maryland’s 1st Congressional District since 2011, played a major role in drafting the 21st Century Cures Act. The bill increased funding for the NIH by $4.8 billion over the next decade and included language — which Harris said was “watered down” — urging the agency to support younger researchers.
Harris is on good terms with the two physicians already announced as Trump cabinet nominees.
He endorsed Dr. Ben Carson, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, during the Republican presidential primary, and has co-sponsored health care legislation with Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, whom Trump has selected to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“I just said generally that if there was anything I could do to help them, you know, I knew Ben Carson fairly well, and indicated to him that I’d be willing to help if necessary, and I know Dr. Price very well also,” Harris said. “But I was never formally interviewed in any way by the Trump team.”