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. And he announced a new advisory role for Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.
If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra, 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.
Becerra, a former senior House Democrat, said that in Congress he helped pass the Affordable Care Act and as California’s attorney general he has defended it. “As Secretary of Health and Human Services, I will build on our progress and ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health care — through this pandemic and beyond,” he tweeted on Monday.
Biden's selection of Becerra and Walensky was announced early Monday in a press release from the transition office. People familiar with the decision had confirmed the picks to The Associated Press on Sunday night. Biden also announced other top members of his health care team, though some posts remain unfilled.
Becerra, as 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.
As a U.S. representative, he 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.