Sens. Joe Manchin and Susan Collins said Thursday they plan to vote for Xavier Becerra to serve as President Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary, likely delivering the new administration another Cabinet member.
Support from Manchin and Collins, two crucial swing votes, almost certainly gives Democrats the necessary support to confirm Becerra after the Senate Finance Committee deadlocked earlier this week on whether to advance Biden's nominee to lead the health agency.
"While Attorney General Xavier Becerra and I have very different records on issues like abortion and the Second Amendment, he has affirmed to me his dedication to working with members on both sides of the aisle to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous needs of our nation in a bipartisan way," Manchin, a moderate Democrat, said in a statement.
Becerra, now California's attorney general, has drawn fire from Republicans for his record on abortion rights, guns and immigration, as well as his support for Medicare-for-all. Conservative groups have spent hundreds of thousands on ad buys in Arizona and West Virginia, Manchin's home state, trying to pressure moderate Democrats to not support Becerra.
Collins, R-Maine, announced that she would back Becerra shortly after Manchin made his statement.
"Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS Secretary," she said. "I look forward to working with the Department to achieve bipartisan results on behalf of the American people."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Democrats for moving forward with Becerra's nomination, noting that Biden's other Cabinet nominees so far have all won some measure of bipartisan support.
Democrats had to bring up a motion to discharge Becerra's nomination from committee and hold an additional four hours of debate and then a vote on whether to bring it to the floor on Thursday. Once his nomination is on the floor, Democrats only need a simple majority -- with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote -- to move forward.
"There’s a reason Mr. Becerra could not get one single Republican vote to move out of committee," McConnell said. "It’s because he is such a thoroughly partisan actor with so little subject-matter expertise and such a demonstrated history of hostility toward basic values like the freedom of conscience. There is nothing about Mr. Becerra’s record in Congress or in California to suggest he is the best possible person to run the Department of Health and Human Services in the middle of a once-in-a-generation viral pandemic."
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday invoked a rule to force Becerra's nomination out of the committee. Under the rule, the Senate will hold a four-hour debate and then a vote on Thursday on whether to bring Becerra's nomination to the floor, where Democrats will need only a simple majority to move forward.
If confirmed, Becerra will become the nation's first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.