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Xavier Becerra headed for confirmation as health secretary with support from Manchin and Collins

HHS nominee Xavier Becerra's Senate hearing
HHS nominee Xavier Becerra's Senate hearing 05:48

Washington — The nomination of Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services is likely to clear the Senate after a pair of key senators, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Susan Collins of Maine, announced their support.

The Senate has yet to vote to confirm Becerra, the attorney general of California, as secretary of Health and Human Services, after the Senate Finance Committee deadlocked on party lines when it voted on whether to advance his nomination to the floor last week. But on Thursday, the upper chamber voted 51-48 to bypass the panel and allow Becerra's nomination to be considered by the full Senate.

Collins was the only Republican to join Democrats in the vote, which came after she and Manchin announced their support for Becerra's nomination. Their backing effectively ensures his confirmation, though by a narrow margin, with a vote expected in the coming days. Because the Senate is evenly divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes, losing the support of one Democrat could spell doom for a nominee.

In a statement announcing her support, Collins said she and Becerra have had several discussions about shared policy goals, including lowering drug prices and reducing dependence on foreign countries for drug manufacturing. 

"Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS Secretary," the Maine Republican said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the Department to achieve bipartisan results on behalf of the American people."

Manchin, meanwhile, said he believes Becerra "will be a leader for every American and West Virginian."

"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," the West Virginia Democrat said.

It's unclear whether any Republican will join Collins in voting to confirm Becerra, as many have claimed he lacks the experience to lead the department. Outside conservative groups are also working to drum up opposition to his nomination.

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