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Politics, Policy & Law

Exit interview: Hahn departs after tumultuous tenure, advocating greater independence for FDA

Stephen Hahn will be remembered as a commissioner caught between Trump and science

Stephen Hahn will be remembered as a commissioner caught between Trump and science.

Jan 20, 2021 | 2:59 AM GMT

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn presided over the most tumultuous era in FDA’s history, one that will be remembered for the agency’s failure to take aggressive actions at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, for politically motivated regulatory decisions, but also for the critical role it played in smoothing the path for COVID-19 countermeasures.

Hahn’s pushback against Trump and HHS, which came late in the day, may have restored some of his personal credibility, but it will take time and work to restore public confidence in the agency and to reverse the harm caused by last-minute rules and policies.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar handpicked Hahn for the job, in large part, according to individuals close to Azar, because he expected Hahn to be loyal to him and to President Donald Trump. In selecting Hahn, Azar pushed out Ned Sharpless, the Acting Commissioner who had expected to be named to the position on a permanent basis.

A newcomer to Washington, unfamiliar with the nuances of the agency he was leading or the importance of insulating it from politics, Hahn was quick to demonstrate loyalty to Azar and fealty to President Donald Trump. He bent to White House pressure by granting emergency use authorizations for hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma,  where there was scant evidence in favor of their benefit and,

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