President-elect Joe Biden will nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the health and human services department, a critical appointment amid a global pandemic that has killed more than 280,000 in the U.S. alone.
If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1-trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.
Becerra’s nomination, which was first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by The Associated Press, as Health and Human Services secretary comes as Biden has faced increasing pressure to add more diversity to his administration.
Long considered to be a leading contender for attorney general, Becerra has been one of the most aggressive opponents of the Trump administration having sponsored a wave of legal actions challenging environmental, immigration and Census policies.
Becerra, if confirmed, would take on a crucial role in the Biden administration, leading its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
As California’s attorney general, Becerra has led the coalition of Democratic states defending “Obamacare” from the Trump administration’s latest effort to overturn it, a legal case awaiting a Supreme Court decision next year.
A former senior House Democrat, Becerra played a role in steering the Obama health law through Congress in 2009 and 2010. At the time he would tell reporters that one of the primary motivations for him was having tens of thousands of uninsured people in his Southern California district.
The former 12-term California congressman was appointed as the state’s chief law enforcement officer in 2017, succeeding Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she was elected to the U.S. Senate.
In his political career, Becerra has been an advocate for working families, health care, Social Security and Medicare. In private practice, he represented the mentally ill.