By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
WASHINGTON (AP) — Well being secretary nominee Xavier Becerra informed senators Tuesday that confronting the coronavirus pandemic might be his first precedence if confirmed, however he additionally pledged to increase medical insurance, rein in prescription drug prices and cut back racial and ethnic disparities in medical care.
“To fulfill this second, we want robust federal management,” Becerra stated on the first of two hearings on his nomination. “I perceive the large challenges earlier than us and our solemn accountability to faithfully steward this company that touches virtually each facet of our lives.”
Becerra now serves as California’s lawyer basic and beforehand represented the Los Angeles space for greater than 20 years within the U.S. Home. A liberal politician-lawyer, he faces opposition from many GOP senators, who query his assist for abortion rights and government-run medical insurance, alongside together with his lack of a medical background. Nonetheless, previously 25 years, just one medical physician has led the Division of Well being and Human Providers in a everlasting capability.
Showing earlier than the Senate well being committee, Becerra seconded President Joe Biden’s objectives of 100 million vaccine photographs in his first 100 days, elevated coronavirus testing, ramped-up DNA mapping of the virus to trace worrisome mutations and reopening colleges and companies.
On medical insurance, he pledged to work to increase the Obama-era Reasonably priced Care Act, although previously he’s supported a government-run system like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” thought. He stated he would act to decrease drug costs, notably the price of insulin. It’s a aim that has bipartisan backing. Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana famous that Becerra appears to haven’t any drug trade assist, including, “I believe I do know why.”
Though main Republicans are portraying Becerra as unfit, Democrats appear unfazed about his prospects, accusing the GOP of taking part in politics regardless of the urgency of coping with the coronavirus pandemic.
Becerra “has fought in opposition to pharmaceutical corporations, opioid producers, tobacco corporations and polluters, and for extra reasonably priced high quality well being care for each affected person,” stated well being committee chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “I’ve little doubt that, as secretary, he’ll put particular pursuits on discover, sufferers and public well being first, and put science, information and consultants again within the driver’s seat.”
Following Tuesday’s look earlier than the Well being, Training, Labor and Pensions Committee, Becerra might be questioned Wednesday by the Finance Committee, which is able to vote on sending his nomination to the Senate ground. If confirmed, he’d be the primary Latino to go HHS, a $1.4 trillion company with a broad portfolio that features medical insurance packages, drug security and approvals, superior medical analysis and the welfare of youngsters.
Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the rating Republican on the well being committee, left little doubt that Becerra faces robust scrutiny.
“I’m not bought but,” Burr stated at Tuesday’s listening to, trying straight on the nominee. “I’m undecided that you’ve got the required expertise or expertise to do that job at this second.” Burr questioned whether or not Becerra respects the position of personal corporations within the well being care system, notably modern pharmaceutical companies.
However different Republican senators sidestepped ideological confrontation and requested questions that centered on house state considerations. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., made a reference to “when” Becerra is confirmed, not “if.” And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stated she would encourage him to go to her state early.
Becerra sought to melt his picture as an enemy of drug corporations. “We want the pharmaceutical trade in America to all the time really feel like we’ve received their again to innovate,” he informed Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “COVID is an ideal instance of how we will give you a vaccine, however we’ve got to be sure that we’re getting our greenback’s price.”
And he additionally credited the Trump administration for its shepherding of two extremely efficient coronavirus vaccines. “There are lots of people to thank, however with out the work that the earlier administration did, we would definitely not be right here,” he informed Braun.
Though Becerra, 63, is politically liberal, his model is low-key and oriented towards drawback fixing.
Nonetheless, 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 by 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.”
Opponents of abortion rights had signaled from the start that they’d struggle the nomination, and the political group Heritage Motion for America launched a cable and digital advert marketing campaign in opposition to Becerra.
Democrats are shrugging it off.
Republicans are “simply flailing round,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon stated Monday.
In some ways, Becerra was California’s early face of opposition to the Trump administration. He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to switch Kamala Harris as state lawyer basic in early 2017.
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 may enable 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.
Lack of medical expertise doesn’t disqualify a nominee for HHS secretary, although it may be a plus. Current Senate-confirmed secretaries have included one physician but additionally a pharmaceutical govt, a White Home finances director and three governors.
Related Press author Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report from Sacramento, Calif.