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Biden's top health nominee attracts early opposition from Senate GOP

Biden's top health nominee attracts early opposition from Senate GOP
© Greg Nash

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Democrats to offer bill to expand Supreme Court Former Israeli prime minister advises Iran to 'cool down' amid nuclear threats MORE’s choice of California Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care: CDC director calls on Michigan to 'close things down' amid surge in cases | Regeneron says antibody therapy prevents COVID-19 infections HHS expands Medicaid postpartum coverage for Illinois mothers up to a year after giving birth Over 500,000 people sign up for ObamaCare in special sign-up period MORE (D) to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is running into early opposition from Senate Republicans.

GOP lawmakers are raising concerns about Becerra’s lack of professional experience in the health care sector, although he did sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has oversight of health issues, when he served in the House.

Another red flag for Republicans is Becerra’s aggressive resistance to Trump administration policies as the attorney general of California.

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Becerra participated in nearly 100 lawsuits challenging the Trump administration and was recently dubbed “California’s anti-Trump attack dog” by The New York Times.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynIntelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, questioned his lack of direct professional experience in the health care field.

“I think it would be controversial,” he said of Becerra’s nomination. “I think most of us feel like there should be some deference in the president-elect’s choice for his Cabinet, but some of these folks are pretty radical.”

Asked if he saw Becerra as radical, Cornyn replied: “Yeah.”

“I don’t know what his Health and Human Services credentials are. It’s not like [Health and Human Services Secretary] Alex Azar, who worked for pharma and had a health care background,” he added. Azar was a senior executive for the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and also served as HHS general counsel in the George W. Bush administration. 

Prior to being elected California’s attorney general in 2016, Becerra spent 24 years in the House, eventually becoming chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Becerra, 62, would be the first Latino to head HHS. 

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Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunExclusive: GOP senators seek FBI investigation into Biden Pentagon nominee A number of Republican lawmakers are saying no to COVID-19 vaccines GOP goes on the attack against Biden relief bill MORE (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Health Committee, which has jurisdiction over Becerra’s nomination, raised concerns about his backing for “Medicare for All” and support for Planned Parenthood.

Braun said “he’s got tons of other reasons I’m going to be uncomfortable with him.”

“He’s 100 percent supportive of Planned Parenthood. He is a Bernie plan endorser, Medicare for All. He has no health care experience,” he added. “All of that tells me that he basically is going to follow the dogma he’s been behind, a California approach to things.”

“I’m afraid he’s going to emphasize a government approach, only without embracing transparency, competition and some of the other things that will only work to bring costs down,” he said.

Becerra said in 2017 that he would “absolutely” back Medicare for All but has since signaled he would defer to Biden, who did not endorse the proposal spearheaded by liberal Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBernie Sanders says he disagrees with Tlaib's call for 'no more police' Briahna Joy Gray: IRS needs proper enforcement mechanisms to tax wealthy Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  MORE (I-Vt.).

Becerra led a coalition of 21 states this year in filing a petition to the Supreme Court challenging the Trump administration’s Title X rule, which he warned had “upended the nation’s family planning network that serves low-income women and families across the country.” He has also emerged as one of the most ardent defenders of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, which Republicans came close to repealing in 2017.

After the Trump Justice Department made the decision not to defend ObamaCare against a constitutional challenge led by Texas and other Republican-controlled states, Becerra took the role as lead defender. The Supreme Court heard arguments in California v. Texas last month.

Also this year he led a coalition of 22 state attorneys general who challenged a Mississippi law that prohibited doctors from providing abortion services past 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHolder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda Rep. Andy Kim on Asian hate: 'I've never felt this level of fear' MORE (N.Y.), who served with Becerra in the House and later worked with him on immigration reform, applauded Biden’s choice Tuesday.

“Xavier Becerra, I knew him well, as he served in the House, and worked with him on immigration and many other issues and he’s a very, very astute political leader. He’s very, very bright. He’s focused and people like him. I think he’s an excellent choice,” he said.

Senate Republicans, who are expected to be in the majority next year unless Democrats win two runoff races in Georgia on Jan. 5, have yet to decide how much deference to give to Biden’s nominees.

Several GOP lawmakers have also raised serious objections to Biden’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera TandenNeera TandenFive ways an obscure Senate ruling could change Washington 2024 GOP White House hopefuls lead opposition to Biden Cabinet White House delays release of budget plan MORE, a close Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams? Republican legislators target private sector election grants How Democrats can defy the odds in 2022 MORE ally who has criticized multiple Republican senators on Twitter.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Memo: Biden puts 9/11 era in rear view Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle Greitens Senate bid creates headache for GOP MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he’s not yet focused on Biden’s Cabinet picks.

“All the discussion about who may come next to the Cabinet is something I’m not prepared to address yet. We’ve got two weeks of important business left to do, and that’s where I’m going to concentrate my time,” he said.

During an interview on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday, Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonAnti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle Tim Scott to participate in GOP event in Iowa Exclusive: GOP senators seek FBI investigation into Biden Pentagon nominee MORE (R-Ark.) lambasted Becerra for his policy views and predicted he “will be the nation’s lockdown enforcer.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) noted Becerra’s dogged defense of the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t know much about him except his fight for ObamaCare, and the problem with that is ObamaCare is a big lie. It did the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. He’s going to keep defending the high cost of health care. We have to figure out how to get more people’s health care at a lower price,” Scott said.

But Scott said he hasn’t yet thought much about whether Biden’s nominees should be guaranteed floor votes, even if they are highly controversial.

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“I don’t think it’s right, what Schumer did to not allow Trump to fill his administration,” he said, alluding to Democrats slow-walking Trump’s nominees.

Braun said he thinks Biden’s nominees deserve up-or-down votes, despite his strong misgivings about Becerra.

“I think anybody should deserve a vote. I wish we would vote on more stuff. I don’t mind taking tough votes,” he said.    

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Senate GOP pushes back on list of participants in oil and gas leasing forum Small cities fret over feds redefining metro areas MORE (R-N.D.) criticized Becerra’s lack of experience in the health care sector and that he’s never held a job dedicated solely to working on health policy.

“That’s a concern,” he said. “We’re going to have to look at that one carefully. I think we really expected there would be somebody in there with a health care background.”