HHS nominee Xavier Becerra largely escapes Republican attacks


WASHINGTON – With measured and circumspect remarks, Xavier Becerra deflected attacks on his record from Republican senators in hopes of thwarting his nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

If confirmed, as seemed likely as of Tuesday afternoon, Becerra will be the first person of Latino descent to head the department, at a time when inequalities in health service delivery and health outcomes are at the bottom. center of the national conversation. Currently California Attorney General Becerra has no medical background, prompting some to wonder why the Biden administration nominated him. The 63-year-old attorney is expected to use his legal experience to help protect the Affordable Care Act, a priority for the new administration.

“This is someone who is in the undergrowth of health care policy, health care coverage,” Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Connecticut, said in his remarks during the hearing.

Becerra, a former member of the United States House of Representatives who returned to California to replace then-Attorney General Kamala Harris when she was elected to the United States Senate, is, like many other Biden nominees, a well-known entity. on Capitol Hill.

Xavier Becerra, nominated by President Biden for secretary of health and human services, at his confirmation hearing Tuesday. (Leigh Vogel-Pool / Getty Images)

In his opening remarks, Becerra, the son of Mexican immigrants who settled in Sacramento, alluded to an incident during his childhood when his mother was rushed to the hospital with a hemorrhage. “The image is etched in my memory,” he told the Senate Health Committee members before him, many of them via a telephone link. His mother survived, he quickly realized, and is still alive to this day. His care at that time was covered by health insurance provided through the union to which his father, a day laborer, belonged.

The Republican opposition to the candidate had been preparing for a long time. “Becerra has no virology experience, never worked in a pharmaceutical company, and her only health care experience is suing the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Senator Ted Cruz tweeted before the hearing, referring to a lawsuit that It involves a Catholic Charity who resisted the ACA’s contraception mandate.

Sen. Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, repeated Cruz’s line of attack during the hearing, calling Becerra “very extreme on abortion problems.” But the smiling Stanford-trained attorney did not appear concerned by such criticism, nor by questions from Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney about “partial-birth abortion,” a term anti-abortion advocates use for post-pregnancy terminations. 20. week.

“I think we can find common ground on these issues,” Becerra offered. Romney was clearly not satisfied with the answer. “It seems that we are not going to reach common ground there,” the senator said of the abortion debate.

At the same time, Becerra gave him few opportunities to pursue the matter.

Mitt romney

Senator Mitt Romney. (Sarah Silbiger / Pool via Reuters)

The exchange with Romney was indicative of Becerra’s willingness to smuggle the kind of spent guarantees that Washington officials like to hear. He said, for example, that “science should come first,” a common refrain from the Biden administration.

One telling moment came during an exchange with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, about reopening schools, an issue that quickly emerged as problematic for the administration. Becerra offered no guarantees, describing the reopening of schools as a local problem over which the federal government had little influence.

It also seemed to suggest that the coronavirus was harmful to children in educational settings. “Nobody wants to risk their child’s life,” she said, although there appears to be little evidence that face-to-face schooling poses such risk.

Becerra also praised the Biden administration’s goal of vaccinating 100 million people in its first 100 days, despite others saying the plan is not ambitious enough.

Republicans who had been skeptical of the candidate would have found little reassurance in Tuesday’s proceedings; at the same time, they would also have found few opportunities to build their case against him.

“I’m not sold yet,” North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, the committee’s highest-ranking Republican member, said at the start of the hearing. Yet it was clear that he and his fellow Republicans were reconciled to the fact that in a matter of days Becerra would be the nation’s new health secretary.

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