WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s pick for health secretary faces two days of contentious Senate hearings. Republicans are portraying the Californian as unfit but Democrats are unfazed, accusing the GOP of playing politics despite the pandemic.
Xavier Becerra, now attorney general of the nation’s most populous state, will be grilled by two panels. Tuesday, it’s the health committee’s turn, followed Wednesday by the Finance Committee, which will vote on sending Becerra’s nomination to the Senate floor. If confirmed, he’d be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1.4 trillion agency with a broad portfolio that includes health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, advanced medical research and the welfare of children.
Becerra, 63, represented Hispanic neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the U.S. House for more than 20 years before becoming his state’s chief law enforcement officer, succeeding Vice President Kamala Harris after she won election to the Senate. His politics are liberal but his style is low-key and oriented toward problem solving. As a congressman he played a behind-the-scenes role steering President Barack Obama’s health care law through Democratic divisions in the House.
Republican opposition has grown louder ahead of his nomination hearings. On Monday, Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas released a letter in which they asked Biden to withdraw the nomination, calling Becerra “unfit for any position of public trust.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has called him “famously partisan.” And the political group Heritage Action