WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has selected California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, to head the Department of Health and Human Services office next month.
In selecting Becerra, a 24-year-old member of Congress before he took office as attorney general, Biden picked someone with an unorthodox background to be the HHS secretary. The sprawling department was often run by the governors, and public health officials urged the Biden transition team to select someone with medical expertise as the raging pandemic will be on the fore for many months to come.
But Biden had also come under pressure to choose more Latinos in his cabinet. Becerra becomes the second nominee-nominee to be Latino after Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s election as Secretary of Homeland Security. Becerra’s election, first reported by the New York Times, was confirmed on Sunday evening by three people who spoke about the selection on condition of anonymity.
A spokesman for the Biden transition declined to comment on Sunday evening.
Becerra, 62, had also been mentioned as a possible candidate for attorney general or as the successor to elected Vice President Kamala Harris when she left her Senate seat.
One of the most outspoken attorneys general during the Trump era, Becerra led coalitions of Democratic colleagues who challenged current government policies on immigration, the environment, and health care, and sued the federal government more than 100 times since taking office.
He was the chief attorney general for a number of other attorneys general fighting to uphold the Affordable Care Act in a case now before the Supreme Court.
He is the son of Mexican immigrants and the first in his family to graduate from college.
“Xavier Beccera is a dedicated, hard-working civil servant who led the fight against the Trump administration’s attack on the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Hispanic Caucus of Congress, who said Biden has used Latinos to pick for his cabinet. “As the Latino community was devastated by COVID-19, Attorney General Becerra has worked to ensure all Americans get the health insurance they deserve. The Hispanic Caucus of Congress congratulates Xavier and his family on this historic nomination.”
Becerra left the house he had represented Los Angeles in since 1993 when he was appointed to fill Harris’ job in 2017 before she won a Senate seat. He won the election the following year.
Becerra issued a statement after the November elections signaling his willingness to join the Biden government in an unspecified role.
“I am 150 percent confident that President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris will be dynamic partners that California can count on,” said Becerra. “They have some important decisions to make, including naming the team they’ll be putting on the field with quarterback Biden.”