- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Senate on Thursday narrowly voted to confirm Xavier Becerra to be President Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services, elevating the California attorney general to a post that will be crucial for advancing much of the early Biden agenda.

The Senate voted 50-49 to confirm Mr. Becerra — easily the narrowest margin for any of Mr. Biden’s nominees thus far. Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine was the lone Republican to vote yes.

Mr. Becerra, the first Hispanic person to head HHS, will now be tasked with helping oversee the Biden administration’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic and the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer praised Mr. Becerra, a former congressman, for fighting to expand health care access despite his lack of direct executive experience on health care.

“Attorney General Becerra’s nomination should not have taken this long,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Republicans questioned whether someone like Mr. Becerra, who has staked out staunchly liberal positions on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control, should be tasked with overseeing such a critical agency.

Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, said Mr. Becerra is part of the liberal quest for a bigger government role in health care.

“He is someone that’s got no medical background experience — everything he’s got is political,” Mr. Braun told The Washington Times. “He wants ‘Medicare for All’ … and he’s got the pertinent agency that he’ll be heading where he can actually move in that direction.”

Ms. Collins, in explaining her vote, said Mr. Becerra was open to pursuing issues such as lowering prescription drug prices and supporting additional funding for rural health care providers.

Other Republicans said a candidate like Mr. Becerra, who as attorney general indirectly targeted a Catholic nuns group over contraception issues and defended his state’s strict coronavirus lockdowns, doesn’t belong in such a high-profile post.

“Becerra is a culture warrior who made his name in bloody-knuckled politics by bullying nuns,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican.

The 50-49 vote was the narrowest vote margin for any of Mr. Biden’s Cabinet-level nominees.

Shortly after the Becerra vote, the Senate confirmed William Burns as Mr. Biden’s CIA director via voice vote, or unanimously.

The Senate voted 51-40 this week to confirm Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first American Indian to lead the department.

In February, the Senate voted 56-43 to confirm embattled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is struggling to deal with the chaos at the border.

Though Democrats control the Senate, Mr. Biden has lagged some of his most recent predecessors on the pace of Cabinet-level confirmations.

Mr. Schumer said the Senate was now on track to confirm every available Cabinet secretary nominee by early next week.

Mr. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of Neera Tanden, his pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, after senators in both parties raised concerns about her past harsh criticisms and insults of members.

Democrats control the floor in the 50-50 split chamber thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

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