WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra as health and human services secretary Thursday, filling a key Cabinet post as the Biden administration works to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Becerra, who is the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, was confirmed in a 50-49 vote, with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine the only Republican to vote in favor of his nomination.
Republicans largely opposed Becerra, saying he lacked experience to lead the department amid a global pandemic and criticizing his pro-abortion views.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor that the GOP’s arguments against Becerra “almost verge on the ridiculous.” He noted many Republican senators “complained loudly” that the former California attorney general and longtime member of Congress had no experience as a medical professional but had voted to confirm Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive, for the role in the Trump administration.
“Mr. Becerra, by contrast, has decades of standing up for working-and middle-class Americans in Congress, fighting to protect and expand Medicare, Medicaid, and working to safeguard our health care system from attacks by the Trump administration,” Schumer said. “As the Biden administration works to defeat this pandemic, the president deserves to have his Cabinet confirmed, especially a post as important as HHS secretary.”
At one of his Senate confirmation hearings last month, Becerra said he understood the “enormous challenges” facing the U.S. with regard to health care. A member of the Biden confirmation team said at the time that they were focused on pushing Becerra’s “decades of experience with health care policy” as a member of Congress, his work on drug prices and confronting opioid manufacturers and his fight to protect the Affordable Care Act in court.
Becerra had served as attorney general of California since January 2017, challenging many of the Trump administration’s policies in court, and previously served in Congress for more than two decades, including as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.