The Senate on Thursday voted, 51-48, to discharge Xavier Becerra’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services from the Senate Finance Committee, teeing up floor debate and a confirmation vote as soon as next week.
Becerra appeared to have the votes to be confirmed to the role overseeing the massive agency, after Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, said separately they would vote to confirm him.
“While Attorney General Xavier Becerra and I have very different records on issues like abortion and the Second Amendment, he has affirmed to me his dedication to working with Members on both sides of the aisle to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous needs of our nation in a bipartisan way,” Manchin said in a statement.
Manchin said Becerra’s support for the 2010 health care law and his commitment to addressing the drug epidemic that hit West Virginia and other states hard over the last several years were some reasons why he would vote to confirm him.
He also cited Becerra’s comments on expanding telehealth infrastructure in rural areas, improving domestic supply chains and a commitment to uphold the law regarding the Hyde amendment, a provision that prohibits federal funding from going toward abortion in most cases.
In her own statement, Collins outlined several areas where she hoped to work with Becerra and other Biden administration health officials, including reopening schools, lowering prescription drug prices and reducing the nation’s reliance on foreign countries for drug manufacturing. She added that Becerra committed to making outstanding COVID-19 relief payments to medical providers in rural areas and to working on access to care in rural areas.
“Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS Secretary,” she said.
Becerra’s position on abortion is why many Republicans oppose the nomination. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the minority whip, called him an “extremist who has used the offices he has held to advance an aggressively pro-abortion agenda and to target religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”
“Mr. Becerra, on the other hand, does not seem to support any restrictions on abortion,” he added. “If he does, I would sure like to hear about them.”
Before the vote, Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said there was “no justification” to delay confirming Becerra during the pandemic. He defended Becerra’s health care background and management experience, including leading California’s Department of Justice over the last four years.
“Everybody understands that members of the opposing party will have disagreements on policy issues. Women’s health care was obviously one of those issues that came up during the nomination hearing,” Wyden said. “But AG Becerra made it clear to members of the Finance Committee that he will follow the law, he will be accessible to Senators, and he will work to find common ground on key health care issues even when it’s hard.”