Biden to name California AG Becerra as HHS secretary

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a person familiar with the decision confirmed Sunday.

Becerra will be the second Latino named to a high-profile Cabinet position by Biden. He will be tasked with leading a sprawling agency that is responsible for managing the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 280,000 people in the U.S.

The president-elect is expected to formally announce Becerra as the pick Monday or Tuesday.

Becerra, 62, previously served 12 terms in the House representing Los Angeles. He was elected California attorney general in 2016. Since then, he has been among the most aggressive state attorneys general in challenging the Trump administration in court, suing over immigration measures and health care and environmental rollbacks.

As head of HHS, he will become one of the most visible Cabinet officials in fighting the pandemic, which is worsening each day in the U.S. The country now regularly records record high infections and is seeing increasing hospitalizations, with experts warning further spikes may follow the Thanksgiving holiday.

HHS will also be responsible for overseeing the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine in the coming months.

Biden is expected in the coming days to also unveil his choices for other key health positions, including surgeon general, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an official to help coordinate the pandemic response.

Becerra’s pick comes as the president-elect faces increasing criticism from lawmakers and advocacy groups over the lack of Black and Latino officials appointed to high-profile Cabinet positions. Biden had named Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, as ambassador to the United Nations, and he chose Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) lauded Biden’s choice of Becerra.

“Becerra has lived the American Dream and he is a champion for working families, which we saw firsthand during his tenure as a leader in Congress,” the group wrote. “We welcome the news of Becerra’s nomination, and the CHC is encouraging President-Elect Biden to appoint five Latinos in the Cabinet, including Latinas in prominent positions. We will continue to work in partnership with the Biden-Harris transition team to assemble the most diverse administration in American history.”

The CHC last week took issue with the Biden transition’s treatment of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), who had been considered a front-runner for HHS secretary but was ultimately offered Interior secretary. She turned down that role and is now slated to chair the Democratic Governors Association next year.

Advocacy groups have pushed Biden to pick a person of color for either attorney general or Defense secretary, the two most prominent Cabinet roles yet to be filled.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas biden administration Biden transition Coronavirus HHS Joe Biden Michelle Lujan Grisham Xavier Becerra

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