The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) announced that it will hold a hearing on Tuesday, February 23 to consider Xavier Becerra’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, February 24.
Becerra has served as Attorney General of California since 2017, where he led California v. Texas, which seeks to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to serving as Attorney General of California, Becerra represented a district which included downtown Los Angeles in the House of Representatives for 12 terms. During his time in Congress, he served as Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security and Chair of the House Democratic Caucus from 2013-2017. Healthcare was a key component of Becerra’s legislative agenda, as he worked to draft and pass the Affordable Care Act. Before serving in Congress, Becerra served in the California State Assembly and worked as an attorney for the California Department of Justice. He holds a B.A. from Stanford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.
Senate Republicans, including Tom Cotton (R-AR), have criticized Becerra for defending California’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, his support for “Medicare for All” and abortion rights, and lack of public health experience. Former HHS Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius and Donna Shalala expressed support for Becerra in an op-ed published in USA Today, highlighting his work to address provider consolidation, investigate fraud and abuse, expand Medicare cost-sharing subsidies for low-income beneficiaries, and strengthen Medicaid.
While the Senate HELP Committee oversees HHS agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Senate Finance Committee oversees programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP. The Finance Committee will ultimately decide whether to send Becerra’s nomination to the floor. It is unclear whether Republicans will attempt to delay Becerra’s nomination like they did for Alejandro Mayorkas to be Secretary of Homeland Security, citing disagreements with his policy agenda.
If confirmed, Becerra will have to work quickly to address the COVID-19 pandemic, defend the Affordable Care Act, reverse a series of Trump administration rules, and carry out the Biden administration’s regulatory initiatives. The Biden Administration recently released a list of staff appointments for HHS and its agencies including the Administration for Community Living, the Administration for Children and Families, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and SAMHSA.