The Senate narrowly confirmed California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra as President Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services Thursday.
Becerra was confirmed by a 50-49 margin, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) crossing over to support the Democratic pick for HHS, while Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hi.) was absent and could not take part in the vote.
Hirono had otherwise supported Becerra’s nomination.
Collins said in defending her vote that, “Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS secretary.
In being confirmed, Becerra will be the first Hispanic person to run the department.
In his capacity as Attorney General, Becerra went to bat against the Trump administration, signing the Golden State onto dozens of lawsuits against the federal government to challenge rollbacks to the Affordable Care Act and environmental policies.
Through Becerra, California has also challenged the Trump administration in court on its immigration policies.
Prior to serving as California’s top law enforcement officer, Becerra served in the House of Representatives as a Democrat.
Becerra’s nomination was met with resistance from a sizable group of Senate Republicans, who penned a letter to the commander-in-chief arguing that the Attorney General was unqualified and too partisan for the position.
In the letter, the group, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), urged Biden to pick a different nominee, arguing that Becerra had “no meaningful experience in health care, public health, large-scale logistics, or any other areas critical to meeting our present challenges.”
Democrats largely argued in response to this that only one medical doctor had led the department in the past 25 years.
Republican lawmakers also voiced their concern about Becerra’s “ardent support of radical policies,” a reference to his backing of Medicare-for-all and concern he would push progressive policies at HHS.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Becerra addressed this directly, saying in response to a question about his personal support for a single-payer system, “What I will tell you is I’m here at the pleasure of the President of the United States. He’s made it very clear where he is. He wants to build on the Affordable Care Act.
“That will be my mission, to achieve the goals that President Biden put forward to build on the Affordable Care Act.”
Becerra will take over the department as it leads the public health response to the coronavirus crisis.