The U.S. Senate narrowly voted to confirm Xavier Becerra as the secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHS) today.
Becerra received the nomination for the position from President Joe Biden in December 2020. Today, the Senate voted 50-49 in favor of Becerra, who will have to resign his seat as the attorney general of California. He will succeed Alex Azar, who held the position during the Trump administration until his resignation just days before Biden’s inauguration.
Democrats unanimously backed his nomination in the Senate, while Republican senators were nearly united in opposing his confirmation, claiming Becerra’s past, which included Democratic legal challenges to policies from the Donald Trump administration, made him unfit for the position.
Becerra, a 12-term veteran of U.S. Congress, had previously advocated for healthcare issues as AG in California and led a coalition that worked to uphold the Affordable Care Act passed during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president. He would be in a position in his new role to lead a Biden administration charge on healthcare reform, having previously expressed support for the “Medicare for all” movement, according to a report in the LA Times.
However, during his confirmation hearing, Becerra told Republican lawmakers not to fret over that as he would not push for such a policy if confirmed, according to the report.
Becerra is being thrown into the role at HHS as the U.S. enters a second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be tasked with leading efforts to vaccinate the country while maintaining high testing standards to move toward reopenings of businesses, schools and more.
The Medical Device Manufacturers Association president & CEO Mark Leahey issued a statement on Becerra’s confirmation:
“MDMA congratulates Attorney General Becerra on his confirmation to be the next HHS Secretary, and we remain committed to working with him and the entire Biden administration and Congress to continue confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate patient access to safe and effective products,” Leahey wrote. “Numerous challenges lie ahead for patients and physicians as they navigate the health care delivery systems, which is why it is so critical that we work together to implement programs like ‘Medicare Coverage of Innovative Technology’ (MCIT).”