By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s choose for well being secretary, Xavier Becerra, advised senators Tuesday that tackling the coronavirus pandemic shall be his first precedence if confirmed, however he additionally pledged to work to develop medical health insurance protection, curb prescription drug prices and scale back racial and ethnic disparities in medical care.
“The COVID pandemic has killed 500,000 Individuals,” Becerra advised the Senate well being committee. “To satisfy this second, we want sturdy federal management.” A former congressman from the Los Angeles space, he presently serves as California’s lawyer basic.
Becerra cited Biden’s objectives of 100 million vaccine photographs in his first 100 days, rising entry to testing, ramped up DNA mapping of the virus to trace worrisome mutations and reopening faculties and companies.
On medical health insurance, he pledged to work to develop the Obama-era Reasonably priced Care Act, though previously he’s supported a government-run well being care system.
The Californian faces two days of contentious hearings. Republicans are portraying Becerra as unfit, however Democrats are unfazed, accusing the GOP of enjoying politics regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.
Becerra shall be grilled by two panels. Following the well being committee, he’ll be questioned Wednesday by the Finance Committee, which can vote on sending his nomination to the Senate flooring. If confirmed, he’d be the primary Latino to go the Division of Well being and Human Companies, a $1.4 trillion company with a broad portfolio that features medical health insurance packages, drug security and approvals, superior medical analysis and the welfare of youngsters.
Rating Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina on Tuesday left little question Becerra faces a tricky highway to win GOP help.
“I’m not offered but,” Burr stated, trying on the nominee. “I’m unsure that you’ve the mandatory expertise or talent to do that job at this second.” In his opening assertion, Burr questioned whether or not Becerra respects the function non-public firms, and significantly pharmaceutical corporations, play in delivering innovation that advantages sufferers.
Becerra, 63, represented Hispanic neighborhoods of Los Angeles within the U.S. Home for greater than 20 years earlier than changing into his state’s chief regulation enforcement officer, succeeding Vice President Kamala Harris after she received election to the Senate. His politics are liberal however his fashion is low-key and oriented towards drawback fixing. As a congressman he performed a behind-the-scenes function steering President Barack Obama’s well being care regulation via Democratic divisions within the Home.
Republican opposition has grown louder forward of his nomination hearings. On Monday, Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas launched a letter through which they requested Biden to withdraw the nomination, calling Becerra “unfit for any place of public belief.” Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has referred to as him “famously partisan.” And the political group Heritage Motion for America launched a cable and digital advert marketing campaign in opposition to Becerra.
Republicans say Becerra is a radical supporter of socialized medication, abortion and curbs on spiritual liberty and that he has no medical expertise.
Democrats are shrugging it off.
Republicans are “simply flailing round,” Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon stated Monday. “They’ve achieved their finest to attempt to discover one thing that might stick when it comes to their opposition, however there’s no ‘there’ there.”
At a White Home briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated Becerra is a part of the crew that Biden must execute his COVID-19 response plan.
The pandemic was a spotlight of questioning on the Well being, Training, Labor and Pensions listening to on Tuesday. Senators of each events wish to know concerning the administration’s timetable for a return to near-normalcy, the progress of the vaccination marketing campaign, the outlook for reopening faculties, and the risk from extra aggressive virus mutations.
Becerra spent a part of the listening to pushing Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 reduction plan, which is on observe to cross the Home however faces main political and procedural challenges within the Senate.
In some ways, Becerra was California’s early face of opposition to the Trump administration. He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to exchange Harris and took over as lawyer basic in early 2017 as Trump grew to become president.
Over 4 years, he filed 124 lawsuits, difficult the Trump administration on immigration, environmental and well being care insurance policies. His litigiousness and vocal resistance to Trump’s insurance policies might permit Republicans to color him as a very partisan determine. California took satisfaction in viewing itself because the resistance to Trump, and Becerra embodied that ethos.
Democrats say he’s not outdoors the mainstream of their occasion, which strongly helps girls’s entry to abortion, and the place single-payer government-run well being look after all stays a preferred coverage place, even when Biden has made clear he doesn’t help it.
Lack of medical expertise doesn’t disqualify a nominee for HHS secretary, though it may be a plus. Latest secretaries have included one physician but additionally a pharmaceutical government, a White Home finances director and three governors.
Biden’s pandemic response is being coordinated from the White Home. Whereas Becerra could be an essential participant, the administration’s decision-making construction is already in place. Becerra is anticipated to play a central function in broader well being care coverage points, resembling increasing insurance coverage protection and attempting to curb prescription drug prices.
Kathleen Ronayne, AP’s supervisory correspondent in Sacramento, Calif., contributed to this report.