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Senate confirms Becerra in tight vote with just one GOP defection

The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraNearly 940,000 sign up for ObamaCare coverage in special enrollment HHS, HUD team up to extend COVID-19 vaccine access in vulnerable communities We urgently need a COVID-level response to the US drug crisis MORE as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a 50-49 vote.

Republicans were nearly unanimous in their opposition to Becerra, the current attorney general of California. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (Maine) was the only Republican to vote in favor of his confirmation. 

Collins previously cited Becerra's commitment to rural health care, and a shared goal of lowering drug prices, among her reasons for supporting him.

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Becerra was attacked for his views on abortion and past support for Medicare for All, with conservatives accusing him of being a liberal extremist with no experience in health care. 

Before becoming his state's attorney general, Becerra served 12 terms in Congress, including as a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over Social Security and Medicare. 

Republicans also seized on a lawsuit Becerra filed against the Trump administration's HHS, challenging a policy that allowed employers to claim religious exemption from providing contraceptive coverage under ObamaCare.

"The most significant health-related experience on the nominee's record are his efforts to wield the legal system against religious sisters to make them violate their faith and conscience," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAssaults on Roe v Wade increasing Trump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push MORE (R-Ky.) said in floor remarks Wednesday.

Becerra will take the helm of the health agency nearly two months into President BidenJoe BidenDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Sasse to introduce legislation giving new hires signing bonuses after negative jobs report Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE's administration, with the nation still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Democrats have warned that the delay in confirming Becerra will hamper the country’s pandemic response.

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Becerra will play a major role in the government's COVID-19 response, but he will also need to guide the massive bureaucracy through a host of other challenges, including the influx of migrants at the border. HHS is responsible for housing and caring for the thousands of detained migrant children.

Democrats see Becerra as a key ally to help undo what they view as years of damage done by the Trump administration to undermine ObamaCare, the Medicaid program, reproductive health, LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections and more.

"After four years of attacks on families’ health care from President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE — after a year of this pandemic ravaging our nation — the challenges that lie ahead of us, especially when it comes to health care, are numerous, enormous and absolutely urgent," Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySchumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap House passes bill to combat gender pay gap MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, said Wednesday from the Senate floor.

"We have our work cut out for us. But in Attorney General Becerra — we have a secretary of Health who is up to the job," Murray said.