The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra as President Joe Biden’s health secretary.
The 50-49 vote puts the 63-year-old Becerra in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The $1.4 trillion agency encompasses health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, medical research, and the welfare of children, including hundreds of Central American migrants flooding the U.S.-Mexico border.
Religious and social conservatives opposed Becerra’s confirmation over his support for abortion — including partial-birth abortion.
During his confirmation hearings, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota called Becerra an “extremist who has used the offices he has held to advance an aggressively pro-abortion agenda.”
On the Senate floor on Thursday, Republicans mostly closed ranks against Becerra. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the sole Republican who voted for him.
“Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS secretary,” she said. “I look forward to working with the department to achieve bipartisan results on behalf of the American people.”
Becerra has been California’s attorney general since 2017. He sued the Trump administration 124 times on a range of policy issues. Before that he represented a Los Angeles-area district in the U.S. House for 24 years.
A lawyer, not a doctor, his primary experience with the health care system has come through helping to pass the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and defending it when Donald Trump was president.
“I understand the enormous challenges before us and our solemn responsibility to be faithful stewards of an agency that touches almost every aspect of our lives,” Becerra said at his hearing. “I’m humbled by the task, and I’m ready for it.”
The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association supported his nomination.
A powerful drug industry lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, congratulated Becerra on his confirmation and said it looks forward to a collaborative working relationship.
But to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, “the distinguishing feature of this nominee’s resume is not his expertise in health, medicine or administration — that part of the resume is very brief. What stands out are Mr. Becerra’s commitment to partisan warfare and his far-left ideology.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said GOP arguments against Becerra “almost verge on the ridiculous.”
Several agencies under the umbrella of HHS have played a part in the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.