SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) – President-elect Joe Biden has chosen California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Becerra, 62, is a Sacramento native and C.K. McClatchy High School graduate who was previously a member of Congress for 12 terms before becoming attorney general.
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.
Eric Guerra, a Sacramento councilmember and friend of Becerra's said the appointment is an achievement for Becerra and Sacramento.
"It is huge. It says a lot about Sacramento's pride and also what kind of talent we have here in our city for the nation," Guerra said.
Becerra would take over for Health and Human Services at a time of crisis, as the nation is battling a surge in coronavirus cases. One million Americans have tested positive for the virus in just the past five days.
Overseeing the coronavirus response will be the most complicated task Becerra has ever contemplated. By next year, the U.S. will be engaged in a mass vaccination campaign, the groundwork for which has been laid under the Trump administration. Although the vaccines appear very promising, and no effort has been spared to plan for their distribution, it's impossible to tell yet how well things will go when it's time to get shots in the arms of millions of Americans.
As California's attorney general, Becerra jokingly became known in Democratic legal circles as the man who sued Trump more than anyone else. Beyond health care, the lawsuits centered on issues from immigration to environmental policies.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom congratulated Becerra on Sunday in a tweet.
"You've spent your entire career fighting for equality and justice," Newsom wrote. "You've spent the last four [years] defending the #ACA. Now, you'll help lead our nation toward quality, affordable healthcare for ALL -- and continue to make CA proud!"
Roger Salazar is a Sacramento-based political strategist who worked on Becerra's attorney general re-election campaign. He said Becerra's protection of the Affordable Care Act, which he also helped author under President Barack Obama, likely helped secure his selection.
"Well, I think this is a critically important time for that agency, that department, given what's happening nationally, and globally really, with this pandemic," Salazar said.
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As California's attorney general, Becerra 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 played a role in steering the Obama health law through Congress in 2009 and 2010. At the time he would tell reporters that one of the primary motivations for him was having tens of thousands of uninsured people in his Southern California district.
Becerra was sworn in on January 24, 2017, as the 33rd Attorney General of California was also the first Latino to hold that title in the history of California.
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