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Xavier Becerra nominated by Biden to lead Department of Health and Human Services

Biden unveils team that will lead COVID-19 response
Biden unveils health team that will lead coronavirus response 01:51

President-elect Joe Biden is nominating California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to serve as his first secretary of health and human services, his transition team said in a press release early Monday. He would oversee a sprawling department set to play a leading role in the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, and he would be tasked with helping to build public trust in it. 

Mr. Biden's other choices for key public health roles were also announced in the release, including Dr. Vivek Murthy to be surgeon general, Rochelle Walensky to be director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith to be COVID-19 Equity Task Force co-chair, Dr. Anthony Fauci to be chief medical adviser on COVID-19, Jeff Zients to be counselor to the president and coordinator of the COVID-19 response, and Natalie Quillian to be deputy coordinator of the COVID-19 response. Fauci will appear remotely at a Biden meeting with top health advisers and leaders of health agencies on Tuesday, a person familiar with the plans tells CBS News. 

Becerra, 62, has served as California's top prosecutor since 2017 when he succeeded now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the role. He served in Congress for more than 20 years and was once seen as a potential House Speaker.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Becerra would be the first Latino to hold the role — a symbolic nomination at a time when Latinos are disproportionately affected by the medical and economic affects of the coronavirus pandemic.

House Speaker Pelosi And Senator Schumer Hold News Conference On DACA Case
Xavier Becerra seen Tuesday, November 12, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which Becerra once chaired, said late Sunday that "in this moment of crisis" for Latinos reeling from the pandemic, his nomination is welcomed news. The group added that it is "encouraging President-elect Biden to appoint five Latinos in the Cabinet, including Latinas in prominent positions. We will continue to work in partnership with the Biden-Harris transition team to assemble the most diverse administration in American history."  

A Becerra associate told CBS News, "We need a Latino in this role." This person, who was granted anonymity because he wasn't permitted to speak publicly about the matter, said Becerra was asked to serve by Mr. Biden in recent days.

This person also said Becerra's ability to speak Spanish fluently should help him explain and defend vaccination programs to parts of the Latino community that primarily speak Spanish in ways other public officials cannot.

Becerra was also said to be under consideration to succeed Harris in the Senate or to serve as Mr. Biden's first attorney general.

While he has no medical training or experience in public health, he has served as a top defender of the Affordable Care Act. While in Congress, he was a leading advocate for passage of the law and as California's attorney general, he has defended the law in federal court, including in recent weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Becerra's nomination also means that Mr. Biden has nominated two Latinos to what his team calls the "Big Six" Cabinet seats — State, Defense, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.

Walensky, the president-elect's choice to lead the CDC, is currently the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Harvard Medical School professor. She is an expert on AIDS and HIV and would succeed Robert R. Redfield as head of the Atlanta-based agency that has seen its public role significantly curtailed over the course of the coronavirus pandemic as observers question its independence from political interference. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

The president-elect has nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-American, to serve as the first Latino secretary of Homeland Security. Janet Yellen is Mr. Biden's Treasury nominee and would be the first woman to hold the role. Antony Blinken has been nominated to be Secretary of State. The other positions remain unfilled.

 — CBS News' Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report. 

Biden announces key appointees to health team 05:22

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