President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of the Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, is looking forward to “working in good faith with members of both parties in Congress,” the Biden transition team said, despite criticism that he is a partisan pick.
The Biden transition team is eager to work with Republicans on the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Finance Committees to set up meetings with Becerra, and engage with members—on both sides of the aisle—on his nomination, according to a transition official.
“Becerra looks forward to working together in good faith with members of both parties in Congress to take on big challenges, like the worsening pandemic, which is a key HHS priority,” a Biden transition team official told Fox News.
Becerra, the California attorney general and former Democratic congressman, has been one of the most litigious attorneys general against the Trump administration in recent years.
He has actively pursued progressive policies in the courts. Suits brought by California under Becerra include challenges to federal rules on religious exemptions, providing contraceptives for employees, international students and online classes, the environment and immigration.
California, during Becerra’s tenure as attorney general, has sued the Trump administration more than 100 times. According to the Sacramento Bee, the price tag of those lawsuits as of August was $43 million.
“With the NEPA lawsuit, we have sued @realDonaldTrump 100 times,” Becerra said in a tweet in late August. “And while we don’t go looking for a fight, we’re prepared to act when the people, resources, and values of California are at stake.”
The goal of the lawsuit was to stop the weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act.
But despite his legal efforts against Trump, those close to Becerra, including Republicans who worked with him during his time in Congress, told Fox News that he is “respected and liked,” and worked in a “bipartisan way” as attorney general and on Capitol Hill.
“He was always very well-liked and respected on both sides of the aisle,” one former Republican lawmaker told Fox News. “He was a good person to work with—I think that was the general sense among Republicans.”
The former Republican lawmaker told Fox News that Becerra has a “soft partisan edge,” and that he would be able to garner GOP votes in the Senate during a confirmation process.
Another, former Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represented Florida’s 27th District until 2019, told Fox News that she worked well with Becerra while they were in Congress, and that she continues to work with him.
“While we were both House Members, I enjoyed working with Xavier on trying to establish a Latino Museum in Washington, DC and we are still working together on this important project,” she told Fox News in an email.
Meanwhile, an aide to Becerra told Fox News that he is “driven by the principle that everyone who works hard can earn and get ahead.”
“That’s not a Republican or Democrat value— that’s an American value,” the aide said.
The aide pointed to a number of Becerra’s efforts with Republican state attorneys general, specifically a bipartisan coalition of AGs he led in August with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican. The group urged HHS to use its legal authority to increase the availability of Remdesivir, a therapeutic used to help treat coronavirus.
“When the attorney general of California has a win in the health space and he is teaming up with Republican counterparts, it’s going to have a tremendous impact across the country,” the aide said.
“He is humble, earnest, whip smart, and a policy wonk who covets facts and science over politics,” the aide said. “That’s who he is and who he’s always been.”
Nevertheless, the naming of Becerra for HHS secretary has drawn early opposition from Republicans in Congress.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a tweet that he will vote against Becerra’s confirmation and that he “should be rejected by the Senate.”
In a statement, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind. said: “I have serious concerns about Xavier Becerra’s ability to lead Health and Human Services because he has accepted over $1,000,000 in donations from the big health care industry and has a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.”
“While Democrats boycotted the hearing for President Trump’s HHS nominee,” Braun continued, “I will meet with Xavier Becerra to ask how his political donations from insurance companies and his support for abortions and ‘Medicare-for-all’ make him qualified to serve as the secretary of Health and Human Services.”
The Biden transition team, meanwhile, praised Becerra as “a longtime champion of expanding access to health care.” It highlighted the fact that Becerra not only defended the ACA in the Supreme Court, but while he was in Congress, “helped drive passage of the Affordable Care Act.”
In a tweet Monday, Becerra also promised to “build” on his work on the Affordable Care Act at HHS.
“In Congress, I helped pass the Affordable Care Act. As California’s Attorney General, I defended it,” he said. “As Secretary of Health and Human Services, I will build on our progress and ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health care – through this pandemic and beyond.”
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and Evie Fordham contributed to this report.
Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeSingman.