115th Congress and Global Health: House Energy and Commerce gets new Chair, new leader and members for its Health Subcommittee

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Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) – Fresh after ensuring the House remained in Republican control after serving as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Walden takes over as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from Rep. Fred Upton, who stepped down due to term limits. Before he was elected to the House in 1998, Rep. Walden served in the Oregon State Senate and Oregon House of Representatives, where he became the youngest GOP majority leader in Oregon’s history. Currently he is the only Republican in Oregon’s Congressional delegation. Rep. Walden, who is expected to play a key role in the possible repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act as chair of the Committee, has had a mixed record on global health. After becoming the first member of Congress to be infected with the H1N1 virus – or swine flu – in 2009, Rep. Walden criticized the Obama administration for a slow and inadequate response to the pandemic that infected 59 million in the U.S. and killed 12,000. In 2014 he called for a U.S. travel ban from Ebola-stricken countries, and joined 27 other Republicans in a letter to President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, requesting more information on how the government plans to prevent the spread of the virus in the U.S. and provided rationale for a proposed travel ban. He has voted in favor of U.S. funding for global HIV, tuberculosis and malaria responses, while voting to cut funding for reproductive healthcare.

Rep. Michael Burgess, MD (R-TX) – One of 20 members of the House who are healthcare professionals, Rep. Burgess is a physician in obstetrics and gynecology who was first elected to the House in 2002, and is currently serving his 8th term. He takes over as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on health from Rep. Greg Walden, who now chairs the full committee. A staunch conservative and member of the Tea party, Burgess voted 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, Rep. Burgess was critical of the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak, particularly the U.S. immigration response after a Liberian man infected with the virus traveled to Dallas – close to Rep. Burgess’s district. The patient later died, becoming the only Ebola patient on American soil to die of the virus while several other American healthcare workers survived their infections. He called for the U.S. to more thoroughly vet visa applicants from Ebola-stricken countries, and take longer to issue visas. At an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the outbreak, he made the claim that “health workers on the front lines of the epidemic in Africa were so much better protected than the nurses and doctors who treated Ebola patients in the United States.” In summer 2016, he suggested U.S. athletes should skip the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro over the threat of Zika. Rep. Burgess has repeatedly voted against reproductive health funding, and has cosponsored legislation to refund Planned Parenthood, specifically.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) – Rep. Mullin is a new member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health. First elected to the House in 2012, Rep. Mullin is a businessman and former mixed martial arts fighter. Another staunch conservative, Rep. Mullin has stated repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is a top priority, while the healthcare industry remains the second biggest employer in Oklahoma, after the energy industry. Ever critical of the Obama administration, Rep. Mullin publicly voiced doubts on President Obama’s American citizenship. While Rep. Mullin has a scant record on global health, he did express support for U.S. action against the Zika virus, including adding Zika to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s list of tropical diseases that are eligible for its priority review voucher program, which is designed to speed the development of treatments and vaccines for neglected tropical diseases.Rep. Mullin, along with Rep. Burgess, denies that human activities have contributed to an increase of greenhouse gas emissions and consequently the rise of global temperatures and the onset of climate change.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) – Currently serving his third term representing North Carolina’s 8th district, Rep. Hudson is new to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health. Before serving in the House, Hudson was chief of staff to Rep. Virginia Foxx, and also worked for Reps. John Carter and Mike Conaway, and was the communications director for the North Carolina Republican Party. Hudson was named the 12th most conservative member of House by the National Journal and has a 100% rating from the National Right to Life. Along with Rep. Mullin, Hudson has a history of calling into question President Obama’s citizenship, and has supported ending birth-right citizenship altogether. During the 2014 Ebola outbreak he called for enhanced travel restrictions for persons from Ebola-stricken countries, including temporarily suspending visas. While he participated in several House Energy and Commerce hearings on the Zika outbreak, several months after the White House proposed funding to combat the virus, Rep. Hudson said “I’m not sure we need to be jumping into the pool until we know what temperature the water is,” when asked about the U.S. response to the outbreak. Rep. Hudson has voted in favor of legislation funding efforts to combat the U.S. opioid epidemic.

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