Senate confirms Xavier Becerra as Biden's HHS secretary despite GOP opposition
Becerra will become the nation's first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services
The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm Xavier Becerra as President Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary, delivering the nascent administration another Cabinet member despite nearly unanimous opposition from Republican lawmakers.
Becerra, currently California's attorney general, will become the nation's first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and faces the daunting challenge of leading the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. surpassed 538,000 deaths on Thursday, the highest in the world.
Lawmakers approved Becerra on a 50-49 vote, with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the only Republican to support his nomination.
Becerra 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 of dollars on ad buys in Arizona and West Virginia, trying to pressure moderate Democrats to not support Becerra.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Democrats last week for moving forward with Becerra's nomination, noting that Biden's other Cabinet nominees so far have all won some measure of bipartisan support.
"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."
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Becerra will become the 20th member of the Biden's Cabinet confirmed by the Senate, which has returned its focus to voting on the president's nominees after passing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill last week.
During a Senate confirmation hearing in February, Becerra told lawmakers he understood the "enormous challenges before us" and said confronting the pandemic would be his first priority. He also pledged to expand health insurance and make prescription drugs more affordable.
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"I understand the enormous challenges before us and our solemn responsibility to faithfully steward this agency that touches almost every aspect of our lives," he said.
Becerra served as a member of Congress for close to 24 years before he was appointed as California attorney general by then-California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 to fill a vacancy left by Kamala Harris when she was elected to the Senate.