TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The four Democrats on the Florida Senate’s Health Policy Committee walked out during a confirmation hearing for state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo on Wednesday morning, frustrated with his responses.
The six Republicans on the committee then unanimously voted to recommend confirmation for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick.
It was the first time Ladapo was questioned by state lawmakers since DeSantis appointed him to the post in September.
Among the topics discussed and questioned were Ladapo’s background and qualifications for the job, including his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My vision is to improve the health of Floridians and reduce the burden of chronic disease in Florida by applying scientific data, evidence-based strategies, and a sensible approach to public health,” Ladapo said as he laid out his goals as the state’s top health official.
The main topic of the hearing, however, was the pandemic.
Democrats tried to pin Ladapo down with “yes or no” questions on whether he believed vaccines and masks work against coronavirus and other topics, but were often met with lengthy answers from Ladapo.
“What I hear is arrogance and polite avoidance,” said Sen. Janet Cruz, a Democrat. “So if you wouldn’t mind all of this fond rhetoric that you are applying, can we just get straight answers so that more people can hear more information.”
In one exchange, Democratic Sen. Lauren Book from Broward repeatedly pressed Ladapo on whether he found coronavirus vaccines to be effective. Ladapo responded: “yes or no questions are not that easy to find in science.”
He continued, “The most commonly used vaccines in the United States, which would be the Pfizer product and the product that was developed by Moderna, have been shown to have relatively high effectiveness for the prevention of hospitalization and death, and over time, relatively low protection from infection,” he said.
In another exchange, Book grilled the surgeon general about his refusal to wear a mask when asked to do so in October by state Sen. Tina Polsky, who is battling breast cancer.
“Consistent with my approach to clinical care and my approach to health policy issues, I think it’s very important to respect people’s personal preferences and I think that’s a mutual issue,” Ladapo said. “So it’s important to respect people’s preferences and I think that when people’s preferences may differ, the goal ought to be to find a way where those individuals can achieve whatever outcome they’re aiming to achieve in a way that leaves everyone mutually comfortable.”
Ultimately, the democrats in the committee became so frustrated that they decided to leave.
“Quite frankly, we have an extreme amount of respect for this process ... however, we don’t feel that we are getting any answers and we know that there is a long agenda today with a lot of bills,” Book said. “So the Florida Senate Democrats in this committee now are going to abstain, walk out and come back when we have more business.”
With no democrats present, the remaining senators voted to recommend confirmation for Ladapo.
It was the first of two stops before a full Senate floor vote. The Ethics and Elections Committee will next have the next chance to question Ladapo.
Because Republicans make up the majority of the chamber, Ladapo’s confirmation is expected to ultimately go through.