If confirmed by the United States Senate, Becerra would serve a critical role in the administration’s response to a pandemic that has killed more than 282,000 Americans as of Sunday evening.
Becerra, a former member of Congress, emerged as the leading contender for the critical role after other candidates with more health care expertise were ruled out.
One of Becerra’s highest-profile health care roles recently has been chief defender of the Affordable Care Act in court.
With the Trump administration joining a coalition of Republican state attorneys general fighting to invalidate the landmark health reform law, Becerra has led a group of Democratic attorneys general arguing why the law remains valid. At issue is whether Congress’ reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional, which would cause the entire law to fall.
“COVID-19 has made one thing undeniable: We must safeguard the Affordable Care Act — lives depend on it,” Becerra said last month, just before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case, which originated in Texas. “As if on cue, the Trump Administration cavalierly continues its march to dismantle the ACA and strip Americans of their health care. We will do everything we can to defeat this unprecedented assault on a critical federal law by a sitting president.”
In particular, Becerra has pointed to the Affordable Care Act providing coverage for 20 million Americans through Medicaid expansion or the Obamacare exchanges, guaranteeing protections for millions of people with pre-existing conditions and funding state and local public health systems.
“Becerra has tackled some of the big health care issues he would face as HHS secretary, including reinvigorating the ACA and taming health care costs,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for the Kaiser Family Foundation. He “has a demonstrated ability to speak to the public about the complexity of health care issues, which is an important part of the job.”
In 2018, Becerra filed a lawsuit against Sutter Health, a system of 24 hospitals and more than 12,000 doctors in Northern California, for using anti-competitive practices to consolidate market power, resulting in higher health care prices. The attorney general secured a $575 million settlement a year ago that requires Sutter to change some of its practices.
Last week, Becerra submitted comments on behalf of a coalition of attorneys general opposing a new Trump administration proposal to automatically sunset HHS regulations that the agency doesn’t review within two years.
“This rule is an attempt by the outgoing Trump Administration to make it more difficult for President-elect Biden and his incoming administration to put in place useful policies that will see our country through the pandemic,” he said.
Affordable Care Act advocates praised Biden’s pick Sunday night.
“Attorney General Xavier Becerra has all the skills and qualifications necessary to execute President-elect Biden’s bold plans to increase access to quality care, lower skyrocketing prescription drug prices, make health care more affordable, strengthen Medicare and Medicaid and work to get the coronavirus pandemic under control,” said Brad Woodhouse, executive director of Protect Our Care, which has sought to counter GOP attacks on the law.
Becerra served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the US House of Representatives and held several leadership posts. He was the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. He was also the first Latino to serve as a member of the Ways and Means Committee.
He sat on the Ways & Means subcommittee on health, where he worked on major health programs, such as Medicare.
He also served one term in the California Legislature and is a former deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice.
Becerra was also under consideration to serve as US attorney general, CNN previously reported.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm had also been mentioned as potential contenders for the post, CNN previously reported.
Members of the caucus also met with leaders of Biden’s transition team last week and expressed frustration with how they believe Lujan Grisham had been treated in the Cabinet selection process. They took issue with what they said were leaks from the transition team about the governor turning down a Cabinet position to lead the Department of Interior, and said the leaks had the effect of being embarrassing for the governor.
Biden’s transition team is expected to announce key members of the President-elect’s health team early this week, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
The President-elect told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview last week that he had asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to stay on in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and to serve as a chief medical adviser to his administration.
This story has been updated with additional information about Becerra.