Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's pick for health secretary heads to the hot seat

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is more likely than not to be confirmed as the next secretary of Health and Human Services, especially now that another of President Biden's nominees is in hot water.

Yes, but: Becerra's confirmation hearings this week are likely to become political brawls over abortion, Medicare for All, California's pandemic response and Becerra's qualifications for the job.

Driving the news: Becerra will face the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

  • Crossing the finish line may have gotten easier for Becerra on Friday, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his opposition to Neera Tanden, Biden's choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

What they're saying: "In my conversations with Senate Democrats, what I'm hearing is a huge sense of relief that in Attorney General Becerra, we’ll have a qualified, experienced leader," Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told Axios' Hans Nichols.

The other side: "He's literally the least qualified nominee in the history of the agency," said a senior GOP aide working on the nomination, a preview of what we're likely to hear this week.

  • "No experience in health, no experience in managing something of this size, no expertise in pandemic issues," the aide added.

What we're watching: One area of strong disagreement between Becerra and more moderate Senate Democrats is Medicare for All, which the nominee has supported in the past.

  • But the HHS secretary can't ram through a single-payer health care system on his own.
  • However, the secretary can make significant policy changes via waivers, as NYT wrote last year, and will be central to shaping Biden's regulatory health care agenda.
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