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Xavier Becerra, nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, is testifying Tuesday at the first of two Senate confirmation hearings, telling a committee he is aligned with Biden’s central priorities — defeating the coronavirus pandemic and ensuring Americans access to affordable health care — though some Republicans argue he is unqualified for the job.
In testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Becerra says, “The mission of HHS — to enhance the health and well being of all Americans — is core to who I am.”
Fourteen conservative Senate Republicans sent a letter Monday to Biden expressing “our grave concerns” about the nomination and calling Becerra “unfit for any position of public trust, and especially for HHS secretary.” GOP senators also plan to assail his record of supporting reproductive rights. Several conservative groups are mounting an ad campaign against his nomination.
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the ranking Republican on the panel, challenged Becerra to allay considerable GOP doubts about whether he is suited for the role.
“I’m not sold yet,” Burr told Becerra. “I’m not sure that you have the necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment. I’m not sure that you have the appropriate respect for the private sector and innovation and intellectual property needed to bring more exciting treatment and cures to save lives in this country.”
Still, he stopped short of announcing he would vote against Becerra, saying he was keeping an open mind until the end of the hearing and one Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee
The health committee hearing and the second one Wednesday will decide whether Becerra’s nomination will advance to the full Senate. They are likely to be contentious, but unless any Democrats defect — none have indicated so far that they will — he will have enough support for confirmation by the Senate, with its razor-slim Democratic majority.
Becerra is California’s attorney general, was a House member for two decades, and would, if confirmed, be the first Latino to serve as HHS secretary.
He led a coalition of Democratic attorneys general in fighting against a lawsuit, now before the Supreme Court, that would invalidate the Affordable Care Act. And he filed more than 100 lawsuits against Trump administration policies on health care, as well as on immigration and the environment.