The Senate confirmed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday, 50–49, in the closest confirmation vote a Biden cabinet member has seen yet.
Becerra’s confirmation, which all but one Republican opposed, came as expected after Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the sole Republican yes-vote, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a moderate Democrat, came out in support of the confirmation last week.
Becerra, a pro-abortion former U.S. representative widely criticized by Republicans for lacking health experience, is the only cabinet member of the 20 so far confirmed who was not favorably recommended after their committee hearing. The Finance Committee was deadlocked 14–14 on approving him, which forced Democrats to vote on discharging his nomination from the committee. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor last week prior to voting for the discharge, “I’m perplexed that none of my Republican colleagues would vote for him.”
Becerra said in a statement immediately following his confirmation, “I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate. Thank you. I’m ready to get to work @HHSgov”:
I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate. Thank you. I’m ready to get to work at @HHSgov.
— Xavier Becerra (@XavierBecerra) March 18, 2021
Schumer bashed Republicans in a speech Thursday just prior to the vote for attempting to “derail [Becerra’s] nomination” with arguments that “verge on the ridiculous.” Becerra, Schumer said, “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 healthcare system from attacks by the Trump administration.”
Becerra notably sued the Trump administration in 2017 after it granted an exemption to employers who did not want to provide copay-free insurance coverage for contraception on grounds of religious beliefs.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Becerra “woefully unqualified” and “a partisan politician with no expertise in healthcare” in a statement after his confirmation:
The Administration claims their top priority is to beat this virus and end the pandemic. But their nominee to run @HHSGov is woefully unqualified. California AG Xavier Becerra is a partisan politician with no expertise in healthcare.
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) March 18, 2021
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the most opposing senators of Biden’s cabinet nominees, having voted against 17 of them including Becerra, deemed the California Democrat the “single-worst cabinet nominee put forward by Joe Biden” in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
Cruz in an interview with Breitbart News this month also railed against Becerra’s inexperience in the health sector while Becerra is expected to helm the department responsible for managing the coronavirus public health crisis that has dominated the country for more than a year. Cruz said, “The Democrats like to say, ‘Follow the science. Listen to the science.’ Well how about have someone lead the largest cabinet agency domestically that knows something about science?”
Becerra is the first Latino to lead HHS, which aligns with Biden’s promise to appoint “the most diverse cabinet representative of all folks.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is responsible for choosing an attorney general to fill Becerra’s vacancy and has said he would wait until after Becerra’s confirmation to announce who his replacement will be.
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].