The Senate on March 18 narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra as health secretary, due to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) crossing the aisle and voting with Democrats.
Collins joined all the Democrats present in the 50–49 vote. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) missed the vote.
Collins announced last week her intention to vote for Becerra.
“Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS Secretary. I look forward to working with the Department to achieve bipartisan results on behalf of the American people,” she said in a statement, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Republicans for weeks had said they opposed approving Becerra, arguing he wasn’t qualified.
“Mr. Becerra’s lack of healthcare experience, enthusiasm for replacing private health insurance with government-run Medicare-for-all, and embrace of radical policies on immigration, abortion, and religious liberty, render him unfit for any position of public trust, and especially for HHS Secretary,” a group of Republican senators and House members wrote to President Joe Biden last month.
Becerra previously served as California’s attorney general. His appointment as health secretary caused confusion because the roles have little to do with each other.
“You’re a very highly trained attorney—great, impeccable credentials. I’m a physician. What would you as the attorney think if I, the physician, were nominated to be the United States attorney general as opposed to Merrick Garland? You would say the guy’s not qualified,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told the nominee during his confirmation hearing in February.
Becerra highlighted his experience as a congressman, telling senators during the hearing that he helped pass the Affordable Care Act. He also noted he’s been involved with prosecuting people in the medical industry.
“If confirmed, I will work with you to strengthen our Medicare and Medicaid lifeline, to reduce the cost of health care and prescription drugs, and ensure we are accountable, spending resources wisely and effectively. And I won’t forget the other ‘H’ in HHS—human services. I want to work with you supporting our vulnerable children, those in foster care, strengthening Head Start, and expanding access to child care. Finally, we must restore faith in our public health institutions. That starts with putting science and the facts first and showing respect for our career workforce,” he said at the time.
Biden noted during his announcement of the appointment that Becerra had 25 years of experience as a member of Congress.
“Xavier spent his career fighting to expand access to health care, reduce racial health disparities, protect the Affordable Care Act, and take on powerful special interests who prey on and profit off people’s health—from opioid manufacturers to Big Tobacco,” he said.
“During the pandemic, he’s protected the safety of frontline healthcare workers, rooted out fraud from bad actors taking advantage of people, and stood up for homeowners trying to pay their mortgage during the devastating economic crisis.”