President-elect Joe Biden has chosen California Attorney General Xavier Becerra –a previous Congressman who represented Boyle Heights – as his nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, it was reported Sunday.
The selection of the Sacramento-born son of immigrants would make Becerra the first Latino to run the department expected to be at the center of the Biden administration’s handling of the surging coronavirus pandemic.
The Los Angeles Times said the nomination drew praise from politicians, some healthcare leaders and patient advocates:
Becerra, 62, a rising star in California politics, has become one of the most important defenders of the Affordable Care Act, leading the fight to preserve the landmark law against efforts by the Trump administration and conservative states to persuade federal courts to repeal it.
The Attorney General, the paper reported, has had an important role in confronting healthcare costs in California and a leading champion of reproductive health.
But the New York Time reported that Becerra’s choice surprised some leaders in the medical field that expected Biden to name a someone with direct medical experience to the post.
In a letter sent last week to Mr. Biden, five leading medical groups — the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians among them — called on the president-elect to appoint “qualified physicians to serve in key positions critical to advancing the health of our nation.”
The New York Times said Becerra’s selection came as Biden faced increasing pressure from the Latino community to diversify his cabinet. Becerra is the second Latino to be nominated to a cabinet-level position, following the selection last month of Alejandro N. Mayorkas, a Cuban immigrant raised in Los Angeles, as Homeland Security secretary.
Becerra –who throughout his career as a California legislator, Congressman and Attorney General has been recognized as an advocate of criminal justice and immigration issues – , and was thought to be a candidate for attorney general. He was also said to be on Governor Gavin Newsom’s short list of candidates to take Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ seat as U.S. Senator.
In a 2013 interview with Boyle Heights Beat, Becerra said that being the son of an immigrant mother from the Mexican state of Jalisco shaped how he approached his push for immigration reform in Congress:
Becerra also told BHB students that his highest achievement in Congress was working with President Obama on the Affordable Care Act that became known as Obamacare. During the interview, Becerra played a thank you voicemail from Obama he kept on his cell phone.
Becerra served 12 terms in Congress, representing the 34th District that includes a large portion of downtown Los Angeles and all of Boyle Heights. In 2017, Newsom tapped him to replace Harris as Attorney General, after she was elected to the Senate.
Becerra is the first Latino to hold the office of California Attorney General and. while in Congress, was the first Latino to serve as a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the highest-ranking Latino congressman.
Becerra was the first member of his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and a law degree from Stanford Law School.
If approved by the Senate, Becerra’s nomination would create a second statewide office to be filled by Newsom.