On Monday, presumed President-elect Joe Biden picked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), a move that would leave open a key Constitutional office in California.
Becerra, who also served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing a Los Angeles district from 1993 to 2017, was reportedly offered the job by Biden in a phone call on Friday, but took the weekend to make the formal announcement. If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Hispanic HHS Secretary, and would be one of the top government officials in charge of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden’s pick, which came as a “surprise,” has been reported by many outlets that it was largely a response to create a more diverse cabinet, over complaints from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus criticizing Biden for not choosing any Hispanics to positions in his administration.
However, Becerra’s history and experience also were big deciding factors. As a Congressman, Becerra voted with Democrats and was known as one of the more senior Hispanic lawmakers in Washington. He was also instrumental in helping pass the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in 2009 and 2010.
In 2017, Becerra was chosen by former Governor Jerry Brown as the next Attorney General of California to replace Kamala Harris, who had just been elected Senator. There, Becerra quickly made a name for himself by suing and counter-suing the Trump Administration dozens of times over issues ranging from homelessness to immigration to environmental regulations. By the summer of 2020, Becerra had sued the Administration close to 100 times. And before being picked, Becerra also mounted a legal defense against Trump administration efforts to remove Obamacare. The legal fight over Obamacare, spearheaded by Becerra, is currently awaiting a Supreme Court date sometime next year.
But Becerra also showed himself willing to work with Republicans as well, a trait that reportedly tipped Biden’s hand in picking him. Becerra has worked with many Republican Attorney General’s at the state level across the U.S., especially in recent months. He has worked with Louisiana’s Republican AG Jeff Landry over distributing more Remdesivir, a drug that helps treat COVID-19, and has worked hand in hand with other Republican Attorney Generals in suing opioid manufacturers for their role in the opioid crisis.
Becerra’s nomination gets mixed reactions
Biden’s choice of Becerra led to many mixed reactions on Monday. Many in favor of the pick said that he was a defender of health care rights and is the perfect person for the job regardless of race.
“Biden is living up to his commitment to make the cabinet a reflection of diversity,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who has worked extensively with Becerra. “He has a strong record on healthcare but I think it goes beyond that. The president-elect selected someone with the highest levels of integrity and intellect.”
Others noted his push to have as many people medically covered as possible.
“He has always been fighting for the little guy,” lawyer Rafael Colon, who had been on cases around Becerra before, said in a Globe interview. “When he supported Obamacare a decade ago, he didn’t do it to fall in line with the party. He coms from a district in Los Angeles with a lot of poor Latinos, many of whom didn’t have health care. He did it for them. And he’s been fighting to keep it alive for the past four years.”
Many people also opposed Xavier Becerra’s nomination on Monday, noting that he had an extremely poor record on many aspects of healthcare and has alienated many Catholics, a majority of whom are Hispanic.
“President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Xavier Becerra to run HHS is a gross insult to Catholics,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with the Catholic Association. “Becerra spent years tormenting the Little Sisters of the Poor in court, trying to force them to pay for things like abortion pills against their consciences. He also led efforts to force pro-life pregnancy resource centers to advertise for abortion. Thankfully both of his efforts failed at the Supreme Court. But Becerra is outright hostile to religious liberty and Biden’s choice of someone so openly anti-Catholic is an affront to the faith that he so frequently invoked as part of his campaign.”
Others have noted that Becerra has remained largely unfocused on many issues in favor of fighting the Trump administration, leading to many slip ups.
“Becerra has dropped the ball so many times,” legal analyst Katherine Jennings noted to the Globe. “He’s treated the Trump Administration as a white whale and generally ignored other things around him. He literally just allowed one of the largest cases of state taxpayer fraud to happen by not looking into the $400 million federal COVID-19 relief money being claimed by fraudsters by using the names of prisoners. He’s gone after much-needed natural resource gathering, has refused to compromise on most issues, especially immigration, and has just kept missing important legal matters.”
“I really do believe that he wants to help people, but he’s the embodiment of the peter principle right now in that he advanced much higher that what he is actually suited for. If he’s confirmed, he better have a really good team around him or else things just aren’t going to work right in the HHS. And it’s critical, because they’re helping defend against coronavirus spread right now.”
Becerra was also the tip of the spear in the 2017-18 Congressional scandal involving the Pakistani Awan brothers massive cyber security and espionage breach. Daily Caller’s Luke Rosiak spent months reporting on it: “Xavier Becerra, now attorney general of California, ran the House Democratic Caucus, and his server was physically stolen shortly after the IG report named it as evidence in a hacking probe, three senior government officials said.”
The probe into the Awan brothers espionage scandal revealed that a massive data breach occurred at the U.S. House Democrat Caucus while Becerra was the chairman. Rosiak, revealed that a senior official gave details about how the existence of two “secret servers” were discovered when then Rep. Becerra, who had just been appointed California’s Attorney General, asked to have his server “wiped clean.”
Governor Gavin Newsom will also now have to pick a new Attorney General to fill out Becerra’s term. Many top Californian lawmakers and lawyers are expected to campaign Newsom for the position in the coming weeks. More open positions from Biden nominating additional Californians is also likely in the coming weeks.
The now-nominated Becerra is expected to go through a confirmation hearing in Washington early next year.
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