President-elect Joe Biden on Sunday chose California Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Health and Human Services Department.
Becerra, who has been a clear choice over recent days, is set to become the first Latino to run the department amid the resurgence of the novel coronavirus pandemic. His pick comes as a surprise, according to people familiar with the conversations.
If confirmed, the Democrat would face the daunting task of leading the health department during the COVID-19 crisis that has infected more than 14.7 million Americans and killed over 282,324 people in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“The A.C.A. has been life-changing and now through this pandemic, we can all see the value in having greater access to quality health care at affordable prices,” Becerra said in June.
“Now is not the time to rip away our best tool to address very real and very deadly health disparities in our communities,” he continued.
Biden is expected to formally announce Becerra as his pick to lead the health department this week. He may also reveal other top health care advisers, The New York Times reported.
Who is Xavier Becerra?
Xavier Becerra was appointed as California’s 33rd Attorney General on Jan. 24, 2017, making him the first Latino to hold office in the state’s history. His tenure as attorney general saw him at the forefront of legal efforts on health care.
He has previously led campaigns to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled in 20 states and the District of Columbia. He has also fought for women’s health, Social Security, and Medicare programs.
Attorney General Becerra has served 12 terms in Congress where he became the first Latino member of the Ways And Means Committee. He also served as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, according to the Office of the Attorney General.
His appointment caught medical experts off guard, leaving many unhappy with the decision. Last week, five leading medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, sent a letter to Biden calling him to appoint “qualified physicians” in key positions.
“There are many talented individuals who are positioned to serve the nation, but we believe that your Administration and the country would be well- served by the appointment of qualified physicians to serve in key positions critical to advancing the health of our nation,” the letter read.
Who are Biden’s other health advisers?
Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky was selected to replace Dr. Robert R. Redfield in leading the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She would be tasked with rebuilding the agency that has been sidelined by the Trump administration, Politico reported.
Walensky had served as the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is also a professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on Aids and HIV.
The CDC will play a critical role in the distribution of any coronavirus vaccine, which is set to become one of the largest immunization program in American history.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
Dr. Vivek Murthy is expected to be nominated as U.S. Surgeon General, a role he served under former President Barack Obama. He would play a key role as one of Biden’s closest advisers on medical issues, including the coronavirus pandemic.
In 2014, Murthy faced opposition from Republicans during his Senate confirmation process. He believed hun violence was a public health crisis, CNN reported.
Jeffrey D. Zients
Jeffrey D. Zients will be nominated as the Biden administration’s new coronavirus czar. He would be tasked with coordinating the fight against the pandemic among multiple government agencies.
Zients previously served as the head of Obama’s National Economic Council. He also founded a private equity firm, Portfolio Logic, and joined the board of social media platform Facebook.