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GOP tries to block Biden health care pick Xavier Becerra



Republicans are portraying California AG Xavier Becerra as unfit. However, Democrats are unfazed, accusing the GOP of enjoying politics regardless of the pandemic.

WASHINGTON — Well being secretary nominee Xavier Becerra informed senators Tuesday that confronting the coronavirus pandemic shall be his first precedence if confirmed, however he additionally pledged to increase medical health insurance, rein in prescription drug prices and scale back racial and ethnic disparities in medical care.

“To satisfy this second, we want sturdy federal management,” Becerra mentioned on the first of two hearings on his nomination. “I perceive the big challenges earlier than us and our solemn accountability to faithfully steward this company that touches virtually each facet of our lives.”

Becerra now serves as California’s legal professional common and beforehand represented the Los Angeles space for greater than 20 years within the U.S. Home. A liberal politician-lawyer, he faces opposition from many GOP senators, who query his help for abortion rights and government-run medical health insurance, alongside along with his lack of a scientific background. Nonetheless, previously 25 years, just one medical physician has led the Division of Well being and Human Companies in a everlasting capability.

Showing earlier than the Senate well being committee, Becerra seconded President Joe Biden’s objectives of 100 million vaccine pictures in his first 100 days, elevated coronavirus testing, ramped-up DNA mapping of the virus to trace worrisome mutations and reopening faculties and companies.

On medical health insurance, he pledged to work to increase the Obama-era Reasonably priced Care Act, although previously he is supported a government-run system like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” thought. He mentioned he would act to decrease drug costs, significantly the price of insulin. It is a objective that has bipartisan backing. Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana famous that Becerra appears to don’t have any drug trade help, including, “I feel I do know why.”

Though main Republicans are portraying Becerra as unfit, Democrats appear unfazed about his prospects, accusing the GOP of enjoying politics regardless of the urgency of coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

Following Tuesday’s look earlier than the Well being, Training, Labor and Pensions Committee, Becerra shall be questioned Wednesday by the Finance Committee, which is able to vote on sending his nomination to the Senate flooring. If confirmed, he’d be the primary Latino to move HHS, a $1.four trillion company with a broad portfolio that features medical health insurance packages, drug security and approvals, superior medical analysis and the welfare of kids.

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Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the rating Republican on the well being committee, left little doubt that Becerra faces robust scrutiny.

“I’m not bought but,” Burr mentioned at Tuesday’s listening to, trying straight on the nominee. “I am unsure that you’ve got the required expertise or abilities to do that job at this second.” Burr questioned whether or not Becerra respects the function of personal firms within the well being care system, significantly revolutionary pharmaceutical companies.

However different Republican senators sidestepped ideological confrontation and requested questions that centered on dwelling state issues. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., made a reference to “when” Becerra is confirmed, not “if.” And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, mentioned she would encourage him to go to her state early.

Becerra sought to melt his picture as an enemy of drug firms. “We want the pharmaceutical trade in America to all the time really feel like we’ve obtained their again to innovate,” he informed Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “COVID is an ideal instance of how we are able to provide you with a vaccine, however we’ve to make it possible for we’re getting our greenback’s price.”

And he additionally credited the Trump administration for its shepherding of two extremely efficient coronavirus vaccines. “There are lots of people to thank, however with out the work that the earlier administration did, we would definitely not be right here,” he informed Braun.

Though Becerra, 63, is politically liberal, his model is low-key and oriented towards downside fixing.

Nonetheless, Republican opposition has grown louder forward of his nomination hearings. On Monday, Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas launched a letter during which they requested Biden to withdraw the nomination, calling Becerra “unfit for any place of public belief.” Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has known as him “famously partisan.”

Opponents of abortion rights had signaled from the start that they’d battle the nomination, and the political group Heritage Motion for America launched a cable and digital advert marketing campaign in opposition to Becerra.

Democrats are shrugging it off.

Republicans are “simply flailing round,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon mentioned Monday.

In some ways, Becerra was California’s early face of opposition to the Trump administration. He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to exchange Kamala Harris as state legal professional common in early 2017.

Over 4 years, he filed 124 lawsuits, difficult the Trump administration on immigration, environmental and well being care insurance policies. His litigiousness and vocal resistance to Trump’s insurance policies may enable Republicans to color him as an excessively partisan determine. California took delight in viewing itself because the resistance to Trump, and Becerra embodied that ethos.

Lack of medical expertise would not disqualify a nominee for HHS secretary, although it may be a plus. Latest Senate-confirmed secretaries have included one physician but additionally a pharmaceutical govt, a White Home finances director and three governors.

Related Press author Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report from Sacramento, Calif.

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