Dr. Francis Collins, a holdover from the Obama administration, will remain director of the National Institutes of Health, the White House announced late Tuesday.
President Trump’s show of support for the director comes even as Collins has praised congressional efforts to boost NIH funding in the face of proposed White House cuts, arguing that stability was needed to keep young scientists in the field. The White House last month proposed a massive $5.8 billion cut for next year’s NIH budget.
A group of 40 anti-abortion House Republicans had urged Trump to replace Collins. The group, led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, argued in a May letter that Collins’ past support for embryonic stem cell research and comments on the moral status of cloned embryos should disqualify him from serving in an administration committed to anti-abortion policies.
The continuation announced Tuesday isn’t a guarantee that Collins will remain in place for any specific length of time, spokespeople for both the White House and the NIH confirmed. He continues to serve “at the pleasure of the President,” an NIH spokeswoman said.
Collins, who has served as the agency’s director since 2009, has long enjoyed widespread support from more moderate Republicans, including key lawmakers who oversee NIH, including Senate health committee chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and health appropriators such as Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
“This is good news for the country and one of President Trump’s best appointments,” Alexander said in a statement. “There’s nobody better qualified than Francis Collins to help accelerate the medical miracles that have the potential to help virtually every American family.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations health subcommittee, literally jumped up and down in excitement when told by STAT that the administration had decided to retain Collins.
“I’m alive because of biomedical research,” said DeLauro, a breast cancer survivor. “The discoveries that they’re making and the direction that they’re moving in — nothing is as important as what we do there because it’s about saving lives. Francis Collins gets it, he’s there, he’s an outstanding scientist and outstanding leader.
Collins said in a statement he is “honored” by the continuation.
“I am grateful for the President’s vote of confidence in my ability to continue to lead this great agency,” he said.
Lev Facher contributed reporting.