President Biden’s candidate for Health Secretary Xavier Becerra will appear before a Senate committee on Tuesday morning, where he is expected to face tough questions from Republicans trying to portray him as an extremist and use his confirmation as a political club against the Democrats. for re-election in 2022.
If confirmed, he will immediately be faced with the daunting task of leading the department at a critical time, during a pandemic that has claimed half a million lives and wreaks particularly devastating havoc on people of color. He would be the first Latino to serve as secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Mr. Becerra, a former congressman who is now California attorney general, has no direct experience as a medical professional. But he has had a deep interest in health care policy in Washington and has recently been at the forefront of health care legal efforts, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Law Against Breakdown of Republicans. .
Republicans and their allies in the conservative and anti-abortion movements have taken hold of the ACA’s defense of Becerra as well as his support for abortion rights. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, taken to twitter Monday, where he called Mr Becerra a “wholehearted radical” in an article that featured a political ad targeting Democrats who back Mr Becerra’s confirmation.
“Any senator who supports him will pay a price with the voters,” Cotton wrote.
The Conservative Action Project, an advocacy group, on Monday released a statement signed by dozens of Conservative leaders, including several former members of Congress, complaining that Mr Becerra had a “troubling record” on ” policies relating to the sanctity of life, human dignity and religious freedom. “
They specifically cited his vote against banning “late abortion” and accused him of using his role as attorney general “to tip the scales in favor of Planned Parenthood,” a group that advocates the law. to abortion.
Democrats point to Mr Becerra’s experience as head of one of the country’s largest justice departments through a particularly trying time. In a statement, Senator Patty Murray, who will chair Tuesday’s hearing as chair of the Senate Health Committee, said Becerra had “a proven track record as an executive officer” and highlighted his commitment to social justice.
“He held companies accountable for failing to follow Covid-19 safety rules and endangering workers,” Ms. Murray said. And, she added, “he has worked throughout his career to advocate for communities of color in the areas of health, immigration, education and more.
As Tuesday’s hearing approached, Mr. Becerra toured the Capitol; Monday, he had met at least 40 senators. Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the Biden transition, called him a “seasoned and skilled leader” who has “decades of experience in health policy,” including “a strong track record of fighting to reduce costs to patients ”.
Tuesday’s session will be the first of two confirmation hearings held this week by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions. On Thursday, the panel will consider the appointments of Dr Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General and Dr Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary for Health.
If the Senate approves, Dr Murthy would resume his role as surgeon general under former President Barack Obama, and Dr Levine would become the first openly transgender public servant to gain Senate confirmation.