The President-elect has elected California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. If this is confirmed by the Senate, he will be the first Latino to head HHS.
WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has appointed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his Minister of Health, placing a defender of the Affordable Care Act in a leadership role to oversee his administration's response to the coronavirus.
Separately, Biden selected a Harvard infectious disease expert, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If approved by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $ 1 trillion agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, state-of-the-art medical research and research includes health insurance programs for more than 130 million Americans.
Biden's selection of Becerra was confirmed by two people familiar with the decision, who spoke on condition of anonymity before an official announcement on Tuesday.
Two people also anonymously confirmed Walensky's choice. The office of CDC director does not require confirmation by the Senate.
Becerra has led the State of California's best attorney to the coalition of Democratic States defending Obamacare against recent efforts by the Trump administration to overturn it. This lawsuit is awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court next year.
Becerra, a former senior House Democrat, was involved in steering the Obama Health Bill through Congress in 2009 and 2010. At the time, he told reporters that one of his main motivations was to have tens of thousands of uninsured people in his southern California district.
Becerra has a lawyer's precise approach to problem analysis and calm demeanor.
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However, monitoring the coronavirus response will be the most complicated task he has ever thought about. By next year, the US will be running a mass vaccination campaign based on the Trump administration. While the vaccines appear very promising and no effort has been spared to plan their distribution, it is still impossible to say how well things will go when it comes time to shoot millions of Americans in the arms.
Becerra won't do it alone. Biden, who is expected to share vital health care tips as early as Tuesday, is taking a team approach to his administration's virus response.
Businessman Jeff Zients is expected to be named Coronavirus Coordinator for the White House by Biden. As economic advisor to former President Barack Obama, Zients also led the rescue of the HealthCare.gov website after its disastrous start in 2013. Former surgeon general Vivek Murthy, co-chair of the Biden Coronavirus Task Force, is expected to return in a year's new role similar to top medical advisor.
However, the core components of HHS are the boots based on the government's coronavirus response. The Food and Drug Administration oversees vaccines and treatments, while much of the underlying scientific and medical research comes from the NIH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention take the lead in detecting and containing the spread of disease. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide coverage for more than one in three Americans, including vulnerable seniors, as well as many children and low-income people.
Under President Donald Trump, CDC was relegated to a lesser role after the agency's scientists issued a strong early warning that contradicted Trump's assurances that the virus was under control and rocked financial markets. The FDA has been the target of repeated attacks by a president who suspected its scientists were politically motivated and who also wanted them to stamp unproven treatments.
As CDC director, Walensky would become Dr. Replace Robert Redfield, who precisely said that public coronavirus vaccines would not be available to most people until next year, only to be belittled as "confused" by Trump. Walensky is a leading infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and has devoted her career to fighting HIV / AIDS.
Becerra's experience with the California Attorney General's bureaucratic machinery, as well as his success in working with Republicans, helped seal the election for Biden, said a person familiar with the process but not empowered to speak publicly. Becerra had worked with the Louisiana Republican Attorney General to increase the availability of the COVID-19 drug treatment remdesivir in her states. He has also worked closely with fellow Republican attorneys general to resolve legal issues against opioid manufacturers.
Early in the California coronavirus response, Becerra defended sweeping shutdowns that Governor Gavin Newsom had put in place to contain the pandemic, including limiting religious gatherings. Three churches in southern California sued Newsom, Becerra, and other state officials because face-to-face worship had been suspended.
Biden's offer was extended to Becerra on Friday. The president-elect was pressured by the Hispanic caucus of Congress to appoint Latinos to the cabinet.
Becerra is jokingly known in democratic law as the man who sued Trump more than anyone. Beyond health care, the California Attorney General's lawsuits focused on issues ranging from immigration to environmental policy.
Before that, Becerra had served in Congress for more than a decade, representing parts of Los Angeles County. He had also served in the California State Assembly after attending Stanford Law School.
His mother was born in Jalisco, Mexico and immigrated to the United States after marrying his father, who is from Sacramento, California and raised in Mexico.
Becerra often cites his parents as his inspiration, saying they gave him a strong work ethic and a desire to progress. His father worked in road construction while his mother was an employee. Becerra is with Dr. Carolina Reyes, a medical doctor who specializes in maternal and child health.
In an AP profile posted last year, a lifelong friend of Becerra said he learned to remain calm and self-possessed in high school as a varsity golfer and exceptional poker player. Becerra studied the advice of famous golfers while practicing with a range of used clubs that cost less than $ 100.
Lemire reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associate press reporters Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller and Kathleen Ronayne of Sacramento, California contributed to this report.