President-elect Joe Biden has reportedly picked California attorney general Xavier Becerra to be his health secretary, putting a defender of the Affordable Care Act in a leading role to oversee his administration’s coronavirus response.
If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1-trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.
Becerra will lead the health agency as it struggles to handle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including record infections and a daily death toll that has exceeded 2,000 in recent days, and prepares a mammoth effort to vaccinate Americans against the virus. More than 282,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The appointment was first reported by the New York Times. Reuters also quoted two unnamed sources as saying Biden would nominate Becerra.
The official announcement of the choice could come as soon as Monday, said one of the sources familiar with the decision. Biden named some top members of his health team last week, and is expected to roll out the full team this week.
“Biden is living up to his commitment to make the Cabinet a reflection of diversity,” said Robert Garcia, mayor of Long Beach, California, and a longtime ally of Becerra and Biden.
Garcia said Becerra “has a strong record on healthcare but I think it goes beyond that. The president-elect selected someone with the highest levels of integrity and intellect.”
As California’s attorney general, Becerra has led the coalition of Democratic states defending “Obamacare” from the Trump administration’s latest effort to overturn it, a legal case awaiting a supreme court decision next year.
A former senior House Democrat, Becerra played a role in steering the Obama health law through Congress in 2009 and 2010. At the time he told reporters that one of the primary motivations for him was having tens of thousands of uninsured people in his southern California district.
Overseeing the coronavirus response will be the most complicated task Becerra has ever contemplated. By next year, the US will be engaged in a mass vaccination campaign, the groundwork for which has been laid under the Trump administration.
As California’s attorney general, Becerra jokingly became known in Democratic legal circles as the man who sued Trump more than anyone else. Beyond health care, the lawsuits centered on issues from immigration to environmental policies.
His mother was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and emigrated to the US after marrying his father.
With Associated Press and Reuters