5 things to know about Xavier Becerra, Joe Biden’s nominee for top health official
Picking a top law enforcement official to be the next secretary of Health and Human Services may not seem to make much sense. But Xavier Becerra is not your typical state attorney general.
In announcing Monday that he intended to nominate Becerra to join his Cabinet, President-elect Joe Biden highlighted the California attorney general’s experience as a lawmaker who helped craft the Affordable Care Act and as a lawyer who fiercely defended it in court from Republican attacks.
Here are five things to know about Becerra, a Los Angeles native, and why Biden believes he would be the best person to lead the $1.4-trillion, 80,000-employee department that is overseeing the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Becerra is a historic choice
If confirmed, the 62-year-old Becerra would make history as the first Latino to hold the position. Biden has promised to have the most diverse Cabinet and White House staff in history. Becerra would be the second Latino tapped to hold such a top job in the Biden administration. Last month, Biden announced that he intended to nominate Alejandro Mayorkas, who grew up in Los Angeles, to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Becerra, who is fluent in Spanish, is the son of Mexican immigrants and was the first member of his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and a law degree from Stanford Law School.
Becerra’s mother was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States after marrying his father, who was born in Sacramento and raised in Tijuana.
2. He has legislative experience
In 1992, Becerra won a seat in Congress and spent the next 24 years representing downtown Los Angeles, becoming the first Latino to sit on the Ways and Means Committee and to chair the House Democratic Caucus. He played an important role in helping pass the 2010 healthcare law, often called Obamacare, working alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to shepherd the bill through the House.
Such experience could prove helpful as he pushes for Biden administration proposals on Capitol Hill.
Newsom, who has not said when he’ll make an announcement on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ Senate successor, is facing an onslaught of competing pressures over what is perhaps one of the most pivotal and politically consequential decisions he will make during his first two years in office.
3. Becerra has fought hard to protect the law
Becerra was tapped by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 to become California’s attorney general, filling the spot vacated by Kamala Harris, who had just won the Senate seat vacated after Barbara Boxer retired. Harris is now the vice president-elect.
Since taking over as attorney general, Becerra has become a national leader in the legal battle to defend Obamacare. In particular, he led the charge against a lawsuit brought by Texas and other Republican-led states seeking to jettison the entire law. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last month, though justices appeared to signal they were not in favor of tossing the statute.
Shortly after the hearing, Becerra issued a tweet that could have come from the Biden campaign: “The ACA saves lives. It is the law of the land. It is legal. We are confident the Supreme Court will agree.”
4. Becerra isn’t afraid to fight
Becerra has actively resisted President Trump’s policies and has sued the administration more than 100 times since his appointment as the state’s top law enforcement officer. In addition to defending the Affordable Care Act, Becerra has filed legal broadsides against the Trump administration seeking to reverse policies such as the construction of the border wall and requiring a citizenship question on the U.S. census.
Other lawsuits against the Trump administration have focused on gun control, consumer protection, the U.S. Postal Service and immigration.
The overarching theme of the litigation barrage has been Becerra’s belief that the president has repeatedly overstepped his authority to change federal policies in a manner that harms California and its residents.
“I am surprised that any president in any administration would at least 100 times be caught red-handed violating the law,” Becerra said in an interview with The Times in August when he reached the 100-lawsuit mark. “I am not surprised we have had to sue, because we have to protect our people, our resources and our values, and we use the rule of law to do that.”
5. Biden doesn’t see Becerra’s lack of direct healthcare experience as negative
Becerra is sure to be pounded by Republican senators over his lack of healthcare experience. But Biden doesn’t see such a resume item as a requirement. As Times reporters Noam N. Levey, Evan Halper and Patrick McGreevy noted, the transition team also viewed Becerra as particularly well-qualified, in part, because he already runs a complicated department in California.
Peter Lee, who heads California’s insurance marketplace, Covered California, told The Times that Becerra was the right fit because he was “a thoughtful, strategic leader who gets the importance of not only expanding healthcare coverage, but also addressing high costs for patients.”
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