Becerra Confirmed as HHS Secretary on Near Party-Line Vote

March 18, 2021
Allison Inserro

Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general, will become the next secretary of HHS after the Senate voted 50-49, split by party lines.

Xavier Becerra, California's attorney general, will become the next secretary of HHS after the Senate voted 50-49, split mostly by party lines.

By joining the Biden administration, Becerra will oversee an expansion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he helped defend as the lead attorney general in a coalition of blue states.

Republicans opposed his nomination, citing his lack of experience on health matters and his support for the ACA, as well as liberalizing immigration policies. Every Republican senator voted against his confirmation with the exception of Susan Collins of Maine.

Becerra, who will be the first Latino secretary of HHS, previously served in the House of Representatives for 26 years and was a member of Democratic leadership.

In 2018, Becerra and 16 other states began defending the ACA in federal courts after Texas and other Republican states sued HHS over the constitutionality of the ACA. For that reason and others, Republicans had urged President Joe Biden to withdraw his name from consideration, calling his support of Medicare for All, immigration reform, and abortion "render him unfit for any position of public trust, and especially for HHS Secretary.”

Becerra will be taking the job as the ACA is poised to undergo its biggest expansion since the landmark law was passed 11 years ago. Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, signed last week, includes generous subsidies to help more middle-class American afford health insurance plans purchased through the exchanges.

His nomination was supported by health and medical associations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Hospital Association, the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), and PhRMA.

“His leadership will be tested early as he arrives amid a pandemic and challenges to the Affordable Care Act," said Susan R. Bailey, MD, AMA president. "The AMA believes he is the right person for the job and looks forward to working with him to ensure that all Americans have access to quality health care during this perilous time.”

ACHP, besides praising Becerra, also was positive about other nominees, saying “the diverse expertise of Deputy Secretary nominee Andrea Palm, CMS Administrator nominee Chiquita Brooks-LaSure and CMMI Director Liz Fowler will help advance critical improvements in our health care system, improve access to affordable coverage and further advance value-based care delivery."