Senate President Wilton Simpson on Thursday sarcastically criticized the “manners” of Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, but his comments suggested Republicans are unlikely to vote against his confirmation.
Senate Democrats a day earlier walked out of Ladapo’s first confirmation hearing after the Harvard-trained doctor refused to directly answer a long line of questions, including whether or not vaccines are effective at stopping COVID-19. In the immediate aftermath, Republicans voted to recommend Ladapo be confirmed.
Simpson last fall criticized Ladapo as “unprofessional” after he refused to wear a mask during a meeting with Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat, in her office. Polsky made the request because she is battling cancer.
Simpson repeated his criticism that Ladapo’s actions — which he has not apologized for — were wrong. But he also called it a “rookie mistake” before zinging him over his credentials.
“You know, he went to Harvard, not the University of Florida,” Simpson said. “And had he went to the University of Florida, he probably would have had better manners. But since he didn’t, we give him a pass.”
Democrats have sharply criticized Ladapo for his skepticism over vaccines and masks and have vowed to vote against his confirmation.
Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped Ladapo — who was at the University of California at Los Angeles — to take the place of Dr. Scott Rivkees, who also was a controversial appointment.
Ladapo had written numerous columns and appeared in a video with other doctors where they touted alternative treatments for COVID-19.
But Democrats on the Senate Health Policy Committee didn’t walk out because of Ladapo’s positions on those issues. They stormed out of the committee after Ladapo refused to clearly answer some of their questions.
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book asked Ladapo several times whether he thought vaccines work. He said his focus was on whether they were safe.
Book asked the question an additional four times before, frustrated with his lengthy, indirect answers, she moved onto his position on mask mandates only to get similar vague responses.
Then she turned to his interaction with Sen. Polsky.
“Do you regret how you treated our colleague?” Book asked Ladapo.
Ladapo didn’t provide a “yes” or “no” answer but instead said, “I have sympathy for her and for other people who are diagnosed with serious conditions. I think it’s important to recognize that. Despite the politics of our environment, it’s a human thing. I sincerely wish her the very best, her and her family,” Ladapo said.
He added, “I think it’s very important to respect people’s personal preferences. And I think that’s a mutual issue.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, called Ladapo a “superstar” and predicted his nominee would win favor from the GOP-controlled Senate.
Simpson said he has not talked to senators about the confirmation vote, but he said Ladapo “would get his day in the Senate” and would move on in the process.
Normally, appointments are reviewed by at least two committees before they are sent to the full Senate for a binding confirmation vote. Ladapo’s nomination is expected to be considered next by the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, of which Polsky is a member.
“We are not a Washington-styled politics in Tallahassee, so the folks that the Governor has put in these places, we will take a vote on,” Simpson said.