President Biden’s nominee for well being secretary, Xavier Becerra, appeared earlier than a Senate committee Tuesday morning, the place he’s dealing with robust questions from Republicans who’re attempting to color him as an extremist and to make use of his affirmation as a political cudgel in opposition to Democrats up for re-election in 2022.
If confirmed, he’ll instantly face a frightening job in main the division at a essential second, throughout a pandemic that has claimed half a million lives and brought a very devastating toll on people of color. He could be the primary Latino to function secretary of the federal Division of Well being and Human Companies.
Mr. Becerra, a former member of Congress who’s now lawyer basic of California, lacks direct expertise as a well being skilled. However he took a deep curiosity in well being coverage whereas in Washington, and has extra not too long ago been on the forefront of authorized efforts on well being care, main 20 states and the District of Columbia in a marketing campaign to guard the Reasonably priced Care Act from being dismantled by Republicans.
Republicans and their allies within the conservative and anti-abortion actions have seized on Mr. Becerra’s protection of the A.C.A. in addition to his help for abortion rights. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, took to Twitter on Monday, the place he branded Mr. Becerra an “unqualified radical” in a submit that featured a political commercial concentrating on Democrats who help Mr. Becerra’s affirmation.
“Any Senator supporting him can pay a value with voters,” Mr. Cotton wrote.
The Conservative Motion Venture, an advocacy group, issued a press release on Monday signed by dozens of conservative leaders, together with a number of former members of Congress, complaining that Mr. Becerra had a “troubling report” with respect to “insurance policies referring to the sanctity of life, human dignity and spiritual liberty.”
They cited specifically his vote in opposition to banning “late-term abortion,” and accused him of utilizing his position as lawyer basic “to tip the scales in favor of Deliberate Parenthood,” a gaggle that advocates abortion rights.
Democrats are emphasizing Mr. Becerra’s expertise main one of many nation’s largest justice departments by means of an particularly attempting interval. In a press release, Senator Patty Murray, who will preside over Tuesday’s listening to as chairwoman of the Senate well being committee, mentioned Mr. Becerra had “confirmed himself as an government chief” and spotlighted his dedication to social justice.
“He has held firms accountable for flouting Covid-19 security guidelines and placing employees in danger,” Ms. Murray mentioned. And, she added, “he has labored all through his profession to advocate on behalf of communities of coloration throughout well being, immigration, schooling and extra.”
Heading into Tuesday’s listening to, Mr. Becerra has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill; as of Monday he had met with at the very least 40 senators. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden transition, known as him a “examined, certified chief” who has “a long time of well being coverage expertise,” together with “a powerful report of combating to decrease prices for sufferers.”
Tuesday’s session was the primary of two affirmation hearings held this week by the Senate Committee on Well being, Training, Labor and Pensions. On Thursday, the panel will think about the nominations of Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon basic and Dr. Rachel Levine for assistant secretary of well being.
If the Senate approves, Dr. Murthy would reprise his position as surgeon basic underneath former President Barack Obama, and Dr. Levine would grow to be the primary overtly transgender official to win Senate affirmation.
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