President Biden’s historic transgender nominee for assistant secretary of health was forced to sit through a series of transphobic questions and baseless assertions about medically necessary treatment for trans youth during her confirmation hearing yesterday. Dr. Rachel Levine, who most recently served as the Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, is the first out trans person to receive a confirmation hearing. If confirmed, Dr. Levine will be the out trans Senate-confirmed nominee, joining Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who was confirmed earlier this month in a bipartisan landslide. But Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky chose to smear the occasion with a transphobic tirade and a line of questioning not based on scientific evidence.
“Genital mutilation has been nearly universally condemned,” Paul said to open his five minutes of questioning, suggesting medical treatment for trans youth is akin to the abhorrent practice condemned by the World Health Organization and others.
Dr. Levine, a respected pediatrician and public servant, sat silently until Paul finally got around to asking a question.
“Dr. Levine,” Paul said finally. “Do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life-changing decision as changing one’s sex?”
After thanking the senator for his “interest in this question,” Dr. Levine calmly and professionally explained that “transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care” before offering to personally provide some sorely needed basic educational information on the topic to Paul at a later time in his office.
Not satisfied with the nominee’s answer, though, Paul claimed Dr. Levine had “evaded” his question.
“What I’m alarmed at is that you’re not willing to say absolutely minors shouldn’t be making decisions to amputate their breast or to amputate their genitalia,” Paul said, mischaracterizing appropriate medical care as genital mutilation.
Paul claimed “the witness refused to answer the question” before throwing around transphobic dog whistles about infertility and trans men growing facial hair.
“You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard, you think she’s going to go back looking like a woman when you stop the testosterone?” he said at one point.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Oregon finally put a stop to Paul’s transphobic tirade, cutting him off when his five minutes of infamy were finished.
“Thank you so much, Senator Paul,” Murray said coolly before turning to Dr. Levine to pointedly thank her “for answering the question.”
After briefly calling out Paul’s inappropriate line of questioning, Murray noted the importance of treating nominees “with respect” by asking questions that focus on a nominee’s “qualifications and the work ahead” rather than trotting out “ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Sen. Paul earlier.”
Specifically responding to Paul’s failure to asking meaningful and relevant questions, Murray promised to “focus on that as chair of this committee” going forward.