Biden picks Calif. AG Becerra to lead HHS, pandemic response

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ARCHIVO - En esta fotografa de archivo del 4 de diciembre de 2019, Xavier Becerra, procurador general de California, habla en una conferencia de prensa en Sacramento, California. (AP Foto/Rich Pedroncelli, archivo)

WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has picked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be his health secretary, putting a defender of the Affordable Care Act in a leading role to oversee his administration's coronavirus response.

Separately, Biden picked a Harvard infectious disease expert, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 62, will be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services, a $1-trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research and health insurance programs covering 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 ahead of a formal announcement anticipated Tuesday.

Two people also anonymously confirmed the choice of Walensky. The post of CDC director does not require Senate confirmation.

Becerra, as the state of California's top lawyer, has led the coalition of Democratic states defending “Obamacare” from the Trump administration's latest effort to overturn it, a legal case awaiting a Supreme Court decision next year.

A former senior House Democrat, Becerra was involved in steering the Obama health law through Congress in 2009 and 2010. At the time he would tell reporters that one of his primary motivations was having tens of thousands of uninsured people in his Southern California district.

Becerra has a lawyer's precise approach to analyzing problems and a calm demeanor.