Dr. John Armstrong will likely face tough questions and an uncertain vote as the Senate Health Policy Committee considers whether to confirm him as Gov. Rick Scott's choice for surgeon general this afternoon.
Armstrong, first appointed by Scott in 2012 to run the Department of Health, has been under fire for the removal of kids from the Children's Medical Services program, rising HIV infections particularly in South Florida, the repeal of standards for pediatric heart surgery and cutbacks to county health departments.
"I think that he has a lot to answer for," said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who sits on the Health Policy Committee. "I think everybody has questions, and it's not just the Democrats. There's a lot being heard from the Dade County people."
Armstrong needs support from five of the health panel's nine members. Three Democrats have been highly critical and are likely to vote against him, and four Republicans, including chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, have expressed support.
That leaves it up to two swing votes: Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who has been critical of personnel cutbacks in the health department and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who did not say whether she planned to vote for or against Armstrong but has voiced concerns about rising HIV infections in her home county of Miami-Dade, which leads the nation in new cases.
A fellow Miami-Dade Republican, Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said last week that, "I'm going to vote for him, but I have questions. I definitely have questions."
Three weeks ago, Bean postponed Armstrong's confirmation hearing after senators raised concerns about the appointment. Gaetz sent a letter outlining a series of his own questions to Armstrong.
"The outcome would have been uncertain for Dr. Armstrong, depending upon how he interacted with the committee," Gaetz said that day.
Last year, the Health Policy Committee did not vote on Armstrong's confirmation, and he was one of several Scott appointees who was not confirmed by the chamber. If the full Senate doesn't approve of his nomination this year, he'll lose his $141,000-a-year job. First, he must clear the Health Policy and Ethics and Elections committees.
If the Senate does not confirm Armstrong, it would be a rarely seen move and send a clear signal from the Republican-controlled chamber to a governor of the same party.
Before being appointed surgeon general, Armstrong, an Army veteran, was a top medical officer at the University of South Florida.