WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday called for Scott Gottlieb, who resigned as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in April, to leave Pfizer’s board of directors.

In a letter, the Massachusetts Democrat applauded Gottlieb’s tenure at FDA but suggested his decision to join the drug giant “smacks of corruption.”

Gottlieb’s decision to join a corporation he once regulated, Warren wrote, “makes the American people rightfully cynical and distrustful about whether high-level Trump Administration officials are working for them, or for their future corporate employers.”

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Warren is among the leading candidates for her party’s presidential nomination in 2020. Many of her legislative priorities in recent years have fallen under FDA’s purview, including an aggressive bill aimed at lowering drug prices and a $100 billion proposal to counter the opioid epidemic.

Gottlieb announced last week that he would join Pfizer’s board beginning June 27, sparking immediate criticism that the company would have unmatched sway with the agency that regulates it. The move also allowed critics of the Trump administration to pounce on the perceived hypocrisy of an official who touted his work to lower drug costs accepting a leadership position with the world’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Gottlieb’s move, however, is typical.

Every FDA commissioner over the past 38 years has joined the board of a pharmaceutical company after leaving the agency, with the exception of David Kessler, who served as commissioner from 1990 to 1997. Robert Califf and Peggy Hamburg, the commissioners who immediately preceded Gottlieb, took posts at Cytokinetics and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, respectively.

In a statement, Gottlieb said he respected Warren and would respond to her letter “promptly, directly, and privately.”

“While I was at FDA, I had a productive relationship with Sen. Warren, working together to advance shared public health goals,” he said.

Despite her criticism, Warren’s letter also touched on her broad approval for Gottlieb’s accomplishments at the agency — rare praise for a Trump administration official from a liberal Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate. 

“Unlike other administration officials who dedicated themselves to rolling back public health and consumer regulations, you often used your tenure to strengthen protections for Americans,” Warren wrote.

Warren, however, also wrote that Gottlieb is the second high-ranking federal official to leave government for industry in recent months. Warren also cited John Kelly, President Trump’s former chief of staff, who joined the board of a for-profit company operating a large detention center for migrant children in Florida.

Gottlieb also told STAT last week that he was “proud of the affiliation.”

“I’ve never been shy about my belief that America has the best biopharmaceutical sector in the world and this sector and its output of beneficial medicines is one of our great national achievements,” Gottlieb said in an email. “At the same time, I’m confident my record at FDA demonstrates I put the public health interest first and called balls and strikes based on the science and the public interest.”

In the letter, Warren also touted anti-corruption legislation that she said “would shut the revolving door and prohibit giant companies like Pfizer from wielding undue influence.”

That bill would prohibit many private companies from hiring or paying senior government officials in the four years following their departure.

Nicholas Florko contributed reporting. 

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  • Sen Warren just moved up a notch in my search for a “If not Trump, Who?” candidate.
    (I had been impressed with Tulsi Gabbard until I was able to find out her positions other than foreign policy and realized she is merely Bernie Sanders in drag.)
    It was extremely refreshing to hear a democrat presidential candidate talk about corruption in the federal oversight agencies, especially when it involves the pharmaceutical industry.
    You remember Scott Gottlieb, the head of the FDA that ran to congress to whine about the states that were not joining the “mandate all vaccines” frenzy. Then in the middle of the Senate Circus, in March, he suddenly resigned his position stating family considerations. In June he accepted a position on the board of Pfizer. $$$ Surprise!

  • She’s a total anti capitalist jerk. She should resign.
    See today’s WSJ opinion on this.

    “OPINION REVIEW & OUTLOOK
    Please Resign. Sincerely, Elizabeth Warren
    The Senator shows again how much she dislikes the private economy.”

    “Democrats used to at least try to conceal their contempt for the private economy, but open hostility is now a political tactic. This week’s example is a broadside from Elizabeth Warren on a former Trump Administration official who dared to resume his career after leaving government.”
    “None of this is about the merits. The presidential candidate wants to disqualify anyone from serving in government unless they’re public-interest lawyers or have spent years camping out at progressive groups like Public Citizen. The outrage over “revolving doors” is absent for, say, Democrats who moved between environmental groups and the Obama Administration.”

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/please-resign-sincerely-elizabeth-warren-11562110234?mod=hp_opin_pos2

    • Funny, you sound like the jerk-off. It is a clear conflict of interest blending community service with the private sector. Wake up.

    • It is definitely a conflict of interest when the head of a regulatory agency is rewarded with a lucrative position with a company he has been charged with overseeing. This was also true when Julie Gerberding resigned as director of the CDC to accept the position as the president of Merck’s vaccine division. Merck rewarded Gerberding with a $2.5 million salary and over $30 million in stock options for many years of boosting vaccine sales while working at the CDC. It was during Gerberding’s reign as director that senior researching, Dr William Thompson, disclosed that he and other authors had committed fraud in a CDC study as ordered by their superiors at the CDC. Thompson is still working at the CDC and is protected by whistleblower laws.
      This was disclosed in 2014 and Florida Representative Bill Polsey pleaded with congress to open an investigation into regulatory corruption at the CDC and FDA and subpoena Dr Thompson. To date, congress has done nothing. $$$

  • This move smacks of “corruption”??? This is coming from someone who claimed she was an “American Indian” on her law school applications… She who lives in glass houses should not throw stones !!!!

    • OK, Dan (forget about Sen Warren) let’s stick to the content of the article, do you think what Gottlieb did was a conflict of interest?
      She’s right.

  • Does Senator Warren also propose a four year limit on senators who when they leave office take jobs on aerospace boards ang airline boards and any board that they were overseeing or is this a what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander I think we know the answer

    • A total ban, not just 4 years. See your campaign website for the full policy, that includes . . . “We will also shut the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington and permanently ban Senators and Congressmen from trading stocks in office and from becoming lobbyists when they retire – not for one year or two years, but for life” https://elizabethwarren.com/issues#end-washington-corruption

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