That was unexpected, including by the FDA, apparently.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned today, an administration official tells The Washington Post, adding that Gottlieb will relinquish the office in one month.
Unlike many people who leave the Trump administration, the resignation wasn’t sought or expected, reports the Post, which notes Gottlieb has recently hired senior staff and has been actively and aggressively diving into new initiatives.
In fact, while Gottlieb has since tweeted a statement from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, commending Gottlieb as an “exemplar public health leader,” he was earlier today retweeting a morning interview he’d given on air with CNBC in which he said the FDA was putting 15 national retailers on notice for allegedly selling tobacco products and e-cigs to minors.
He also today pointed his Twitter followers to newly released guidance by the FDA around new steps it’s taking to protect Americans from intentionally adulterated food products.
Following the Post report, Gottlieb issued a statement saying: “I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to help lead this wonderful agency, for the support of my colleagues, for the public health goals we advanced together, and the strong support” of Donald Trump and Health Secretary Azar. “This has been a wonderful journey and parting is very hard.”
Trump subsequently tweeted that Gottlieb had “done an absolutely terrific job” as commissioner, adding, “He and his talents will be greatly missed!”
According to the official who spoke with the Post, Gottlieb, 46, has tired of commuting to Washington from his home in Westport, Conn., and wants to spend more time with his family, including his wife and three young daughters.
Still, the timing seems odd, particularly given Gottlieb’s very public, and unfinished, fight against vaping, which has become one of the hallmarks of his time as FDA Commissioner. Indeed, beginning last spring, Gottlieb began ringing the alarm bells on e-cigarettes and their fast spread among underage users after earlier delaying regulations that could have removed many of their products from the market.
At a public hearing in January, Gottlieb warned that levels of e-cig use among young people is reaching new heights, with vaping rates nearly doubling among high school students between 2017 and 2018.
Tobacco stocks have already risen on the news. One suspects that execs at the privately held company Juul — which has been a specific target of Gottlieb given its popularity with young users — are also breathing a sigh of relief at news of his resignation. Juul has promised to combat underage adoption of its products, but in December, it sold a 35 percent stake in its business to tobacco giant Altria Group, and last month, Gottlieb accused both companies of reneging on their promises to curb teen vaping.
Gottlieb was nominated by Donald Trump to serve in his current post almost exactly two years ago, though he’d worked as the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs from 2005 to 2007. In between, Gottlieb, a trained physician, was a venture capitalist focused on healthcare investing with the firm New Enterprise Associates, which happens to be closing its biggest fund ever right now.
Previous FDA commissioners, each of whom has been appointed by the U.S. president with the consent of the Senate, have served varying lengths of time.
Gottlieb’s immediate predecessor, cardiologist Robert Califf, served the Obama administration for less than a year, after taking office in February 2016. He left after Trump was elected. Califf’s predecessor, physician Margaret Hamburg, was the commissioner from May 2009 through April 2015.