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Xavier Becerra during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Finance Committee in February. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

The Senate voted 50-49 on Thursday to confirm Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Why it matters: Becerra, the first Latino to lead the department, is now in charge of overseeing the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic while executing much of the Biden administration's health agenda.

Context: Becerra was one of President Biden's most controversial nominees. He sued the Trump administration more than 100 times while attorney general for the state of California, and Republicans, who largely opposed the confirmation, said he was not qualified for the job.

  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the lone GOP vote for Becerra.
  • To advance Becerra's nomination, the full Senate voted last week to bypass the Finance Committee, which had become deadlocked over his nomination.
  • Republicans have criticized his lack of health care experience and his past support for Medicare for All and abortion, while Democrats were concerned that delays in confirming Becerra could hamper the U.S. pandemic response.

Of note: Becerra's confirmation also leaves another appointment up to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

  • Newsom appointed Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill Vice President Kamala Harris' Senate seat and Assembly Member Shirley Weber to replace Padilla.

Go deeper

Scoop: Biden eyes Russia adviser criticized as soft on Kremlin

Photo: Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images

President Biden is considering appointing Matthew Rojansky, head of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, as Russia director on the National Security Council, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Why it matters: Rojansky has been praised for his scholarship on Russia and is frequently cited in U.S. media for his expert commentary. But his work has drawn criticism — including in a 2018 open letter from Ukrainian alumni of Kennan that blasted the think tank he runs as an "unwitting tool of Russia’s political interference."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak.
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings.
  5. World: Iran tightens COVID restrictions amid fourth wave of pandemic.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Maryland lawmakers override Hogan vetoes of police accountability legislation

Marion Gray Hopkins with Coalition of Concerned Mothers speaks during a rally promoting police reform on March 4 in Annapolis, Maryland. Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Maryland's Democratic-controlled legislature on Saturday voted to override Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's vetoes of police accountability legislation.

Why it matters: Maryland is the first state to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, the Washington Post notes.

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