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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.

Go deeper

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Collins' likely "no" on Tanden a sign of Biden's peril

Photo Illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty, Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Close associates of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tell Axios they're convinced she’ll vote against Neera Tanden to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, eliminating a possible safety valve to save the nomination.

Why it matters: Tanden's uphill climb is emblematic of the challenges facing some of President Biden's remaining high-profile nominees. Interior Department pick Deb Haaland, Health and Human Services secretary-designate Xavier Becerra and Attorney General designee Merrick Garland risk varying outcomes.

Feb 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's confirmation calculus

Neera Tanden greets Sen. Lindsey Graham, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, before a hearing Feb. 10. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) imperils the nomination of Neera Tanden as President Biden's budget director but could help two other nominees.

The state of play: Xavier Becerra for HHS and Deb Haaland for Interior have better chances if the confirmation gods get their sacrifice elsewhere.

Feb 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisanship ends this week with stimulus vote

Rep. Jason Smith (from left), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Bipartisanship - at least over President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan — appears over, with House Democrats ready to approve the measure this week through a party-line vote.

Between the lines: The GOP, which is already whipping against the bill, plans to cast it as a progressive wishlist and argue Democrats are bulldozing Republicans despite Biden's pledge to work with them.