Rep. Andy Harris met with Trump to discuss medical research

Rep. Andy Harris met with Trump to discuss medical research.

Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican whose name has been floated as a possible director of the National Institutes of Health, met Wednesday with President-elect Donald Trump.

Harris, a Johns Hopkins-trained anesthesiologist, has been mentioned as a possible candidate to lead the Bethesda-based medical research agency for weeks. Harris, of Baltimore County, is the only member of Congress who has conducted NIH-funded research.

Trump also met Wednesday with Dr. Francis Collins, the current director of the agency. Trump ally and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said recently that Collins was being considered to continue in the post.

The meetings indicate that the incoming administration is turning its attention to the NIH, which in addition to being a driver of medical research is also an economic engine in Maryland. The agency has about 18,000 employees in the state, and it awards more than $1 billion a year to local universities and other entities.

"As I've said before, I am willing to help Mr. Trump in any way I can to make America great again," Harris said in a statement.

"Given my background as a physician and medical researcher, I provided input to help make sure that one of the crown jewels of the federal government, its medical research enterprise, is positioned not only to maintain, but to accelerate its world leadership position."

Harris, who represents the state's solidly Republican 1st Congressional District, has been talking about the possibility of joining the Trump administration in some capacity for months. He initially endorsed Dr. Ben Carson  -- a former colleague at Hopkins -- in the GOP primary and then backed Trump.

Carson has been named to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His confirmation hearing is set for Thursday.

Harris, a Baltimore County lawmaker, has been expanding his reach on medical issues in Congress, helping to craft large portions of NIH legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last year. Harris included measures intended to nudge the health agency toward awarding more research grants to younger scientists, as well as requiring the agency to develop a strategic plan.

Studies have found that scientists often develop career-defining ideas in their mid- to late 30s. But the average age of first-time recipients of the most sought-after NIH funding is 42.

Despite recent gains, Harris suffered a political setback in November when his GOP colleagues chose a freshman from North Carolina instead of him to lead the conservative Republican Study Committee. Harris was thought to be in a position to more closely align that group's efforts with the Freedom Caucus, of which Harris is also a member. 

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