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Biden rounds out health team with Pennsylvania top official

·2 min read

WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday filled out his health team, announcing Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine as his choice for assistant U.S. health secretary as his administration takes office this week amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Levine would serve under Xavier Becerra, Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine, who has led Pennsylvania's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, is also openly transgender.

Levine "will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond," Biden said in a statement.

Like Becerra, Levine's nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, which Biden's fellow Democrats narrowly control.

In a statement, Biden's transition team noted Levine had been confirmed three times by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state senate and, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by U.S. lawmakers.

"She is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts," Biden said.

Levine joins other health-related nominees named to the incoming Biden administration in recent days, including former Food and Drug Administrator David Kessler.

Biden has said tackling the novel coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout is a top priority when he takes office Wednesday, unveiling plans to ramp up vaccinations and rev up the economy with $1.9 trillion in stimulus funding.

Later on Tuesday, the incoming president will deliver remarks at a COVID-19 memorial event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington alongside Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)