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Frustrated Democrats walked out of a confirmation hearing for Florida's surgeon general

Florida's Historic Capital building glows orange at night. The new Capital building rises behind it as the sunset fades.
Erich Martin
Used with permission
Democrats walked out of a committee meeting Wednesday, abstaining from a vote on Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo's confirmation.

Florida Democrats walked out of a confirmation hearing Wednesday for Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo. Despite the protest, Republicans in the Senate Health Policy Committee voted to give Ladopo their support.

During the hearing, Democrats on the committee became frustrated as they rephrased and re-asked questions, but said they felt they weren’t getting a direct response. Sen. Laure Book (D-Plantation) pressed Ladapo more than five times on whether vaccines are helpful in reducing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic

“We get two buttons to push here Dr. Ladapo, yes or no,” Book said as Ladapo launched into an explanation about the “reasonable effectiveness” of vaccines for preventing death, but lower levels of effectiveness when it comes to preventing a COVID-19 infection. “Yes or no questions are not that easy to find in science,” Ladapo said.

Book also repeatedly pressed the surgeon general about his refusal to wear a mask last fall while visiting the office of Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) who had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

“Do you regret the way that you treated our colleague when she asked you to wear a mask and you refused to do so? Yes, or no,” Book asked.

“Senator again, I’ll just state that I think it’s important that individuals’ preferences are respected,” Ladapo answered.

Back in October, Senate President Wilton Simpson sent a memo calling Ladaspo’s actions “unprofessional.” Ladapo issued his own statement explaining his decision to deny Polsky’s request he wears a mask, saying he finds masks make it difficult to “communicate clearly.” His statement stopped short of offering an apology.

Sen. Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach) followed up on that during the committee questioning.

“As the leader of public health here in the state of Florida, do you believe it is a sign of weakness to say ‘I was wrong’ or ‘I apologize?’”

“I think as the surgeon general my primary goal would be to advance public health significantly. The question of apologies and weakness sounds like a personal value question if I’m understanding correctly.” Ladapo said.

Before the issue of supporting Ladapo’s confirmation could go to debate, Book announced she and other Democrats on the committee would be leaving the room and abstaining from a vote on Ladapo.

“We don’t feel that we’re getting any answers,” Book said.

As Democrats left the room, Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) moved to support Ladapo’s confirmation.

Without discussion, the Republican committee members voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

After the meeting, Ladapo spoke with reporters who asked him whether he felt he had adequately answered the questions Democrats asked.

“My goal was to accurately answer their questions and I think I fulfilled that goal,” Ladapo said.

Ladapo said he holds no ill-will against the Democrats for their decision to walk out of the hearing. He said he looks forward to working with them on future public health issues.

Ladapo’s confirmation will be heard again in a future Senate Committee and on the Senate floor.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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