Many California locals are familiar with Attorney General Xavier Becerra — a lawyer for the state and a congressman representing L.A. for decades, up until he was elected as Attorney General in 2018. While he has flirted with the national spotlight before as a powerful member of the House of Representatives, Becerra is now a household name across the country after becoming president-elect Joe Biden’s nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services, as first reported by the New York Times.
If confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Becerra would be responsible for health-specific programs like medicare and Medicaid, welfare, and safety nets for people’s well-being and regulation surrounding this, including the CDC, FDA, and NIH. If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino to hold the position.
Becerra’s nomination came as a surprise for both the public and pundits throughout the nation. Becerra was thought of as a potential nominee for Attorney General, considering his background and current position, though sources had previously reported that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island were Biden’s preferred choices. However, both governors turned down potential cabinet nominations, and Biden selected Becerra as a backup to fill the role. Presumably, this is thought to be because Becerra was one of the most active opponents of the Trump administration, and was locked in constant lawsuits over his attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, as well as rollback safety nets and reproductive health protections.
While any cabinet pick was already expected to draw criticism from Republicans, this choice is also drawing a lot of questioning from both progressive and corporate Democrats — the most obvious concern being that Becerra has no prior experience for this job. Aside from not having a medical background, Becerra also breaks the trend of Secretaries of Health and Human Services being former governors or people with previous experience in the Cabinet, which gave six of the last seven Secretaries a background in managing large bureaucracies.
While Becerra is currently in charge of the largest state Department of Justice, he has only held this position for two years, and has no other relevant experience. This has led many to believe that he will have to more heavily rely on the experts nominated alongside him, namely Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General under Obama, to return as head of the OSG, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, a health expert from Harvard Medical School, to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the return of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
In addition, this Cabinet choice has drawn a lot of attention because of Becerra’s vocal support of Medicare for All. This has excited some progressives, as a major proponent of single-payer healthcare is going to head a department with major power to expand healthcare access and lower costs. Other progressive and corporate Democrats are cautious as to what he will do in this position, since Biden vehemently opposes Medicare for All and other progressive measures. However, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Xavier Becerra may also significantly cut his progressive stances or messaging after joining Biden’s team.
Regardless of this news on the national level, it has significant implications for Whittier College students and other California residents. After Becerra’s confirmation, there will now be two open at-large seats, alongside Sen. Harris’ newly-vacated seat. Upperclassmen at Whittier were still eligible voters in 2018, and many would have voted in the election that made Becerra Attorney General. Because of this, Governor Newsom will now be responsible for appointing two new officials to extremely powerful positions, or two new special elections will have to be held to fill them. Such would be an important, albeit very biased, look into how the country is reacting to a new Biden presidency. While not the most publicized Cabinet position, Becerra’s Secretary of Health and Human Services confirmation would serve as a very strong representation of Americans’ views on the healthcare system and a rapidly-growing Latinx population, both of which have historically had very little representation in the federal government. Until his confirmation, Becerra’s nomination serves as one of many new U.S. Cabinet picks for a Biden administration.