On Thursday, the Senate narrowly approved Xavier Becerra as the Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary with a 50-49 vote. Becerra then becomes the first Latino in a Cabinet position.
I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate. Thank you. I’m ready to get to work at @HHSgov.
— Xavier Becerra (@XavierBecerra) March 18, 2021
Given his role as HHS secretary, Becerra is bound to play an important role in the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, the COVID-19-related death toll has nearly reached 540,000 as per Johns Hopkins University.
During the almost-even vote, GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine.) was the only one who voted with the opposing party, which was in favor of Becerra. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) did not cast a vote.
Last month, Becerra had to face two days of Senate hearings regarding his confirmation. In them, he mentioned that he wanted to do perform his job in a bipartisan manner so that President Joe Biden and his administration can achieve the ambitious goals they have set for themselves. This included the goal of 100 million vaccinations in the president’s first 100 days in office.
GOP Senators Argue That Becerra is Unqualified to Head the HHS
For those who opposed his confirmation, some argued that Becerra, who has no medical background, doesn’t have the right qualifications to lead HHS, an agency that plays an integral role during the pandemic.
However, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized them while he spoke from the Senate floor on Thursday.
According to Schumer, their arguments were almost ridiculous as the same GOP Senators voted to confirm Alex Azar. Azar had raised the price of medicine. He had also tried to undermine the country’s health law while he was HHS secretary.
However, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a physician, mentioned that he feels “deeply concerned” because of Becerra’s background. He said that the pandemic is not the time for “on-the-job health care training.”
Schumer, however, countered this argument by pointing out that Becerra stood up for the country’s health care system for decades, even as an attorney.
The HHS is a department that plays a key role in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under it is the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees vaccines and possible treatment. Also handled by the HHS is the National Institutes of Health, which does scientific and medical research. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention heads the efforts of detecting and trying to limit the spread of diseases in the country.