The Senate on Thursday voted 50-49 to confirm Xavier Becerra as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Becerra, who served in the House from 1993 to 2017 and then went on to become California’s attorney general, will be the first Latino secretary of HHS. The department — the largest in terms of spending — will play a critical role in the Biden administration’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic and its efforts to reverse some Trump-era policies, expand access to health care and lower costs.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican to back Becerra’s confirmation (and Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat, did not vote).
Other Republicans criticized Becerra as a partisan with no public health experience. They also opposed his record of support for abortion rights.
Democrats praised Becerra’s experience and blasted the GOP attacks. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Republicans were challenging Becerra’s qualifications and citing his lack of medical experience even though they had supported President Trump’s nomination of Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive who also was an attorney and not a medical professional.
Becerra, 63, had long advocated for a single-payer health system, but as California’s attorney general he was also a key defender of the Affordable Care Act, leading legal efforts to preserve the Obama health care law. After being nominated by Biden, who has rejected a single-payer system, Becerra said he supports the president’s view that insurance coverage should be expanded by building on Obamacare and creating a Medicare-like public insurance option.
Becerra is expected to be sworn in as HHS secretary on Friday.