Becerra Foes Cite Abortion Fear, Try to Sink Biden Health Agenda

  • HHS pick targeted as part of $2 million ad campaign
  • Democrats say Biden needs health chief to fight pandemic

Xavier Becerra, tapped to lead the nation’s health agency, has become a top target for Republicans seeking to stymie President Joe Biden’s health agenda and limit abortion rights.

Republican senators, conservative groups, and the anti-abortion lobby are mounting a long-shot bid to sink Becerra’s nomination to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Stopping Senate confirmation, they say, would demonstrate the political force of the anti-abortion movement and compel Biden to compromise with Republicans on health policies.

“Whoever it is that ultimately becomes the secretary, will have watched what happened to Xavier Becerra though and recognize that if he crosses these far-left radical lines he’s apt to face political blow back as well,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said during an online rally for anti-abortion groups Wednesday.

Three conservative groups — Judicial Crisis Network, Heritage Action for America, and Americans for Public Trust — announced Thursday they’ve launched a $2 million advertising campaign aimed at Becerra and other Biden nominees.

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Nov. 12, 2019.

Pivotal Senator

To sink Becerra’s nomination, Republicans would need to unite in opposition and win over at least one Democratic senator. Anti-abortion groups say they’re targeting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has supported abortion restrictions.

Manchin’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment on how he might vote on Becerra’s nomination.

In previous years Manchin has voted in favor of bills that would bar abortion after 20 weeks, and would require doctors to care for babies delivered alive after an abortion attempt as they would for newborns of similar gestational age.

So far, the bulk of Biden’s nominees have received broad bipartisan support. Of the eight civilian nominations confirmed by the Senate this year only Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security garnered fewer than 60 votes.

Democrats and their allies say Becerra’s confirmation is long overdue and Republicans are only making it difficult for Biden to carry out his pandemic response plan.

Delay ‘Dangerous’

“Every day of delay is dangerous,” Kathleen Sebelius, who led the HHS during the early years of President Barack Obama’s administration, said.

Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Finance Committee, called Becerra the “right person to lead the way in the fight against Covid-19″ and hoped to move his nomination quickly to the Senate floor.

Becerra has won accolades from abortion rights groups as California’s attorney general and from his time in Congress. He led Democratic-controlled states in several lawsuits against Trump administration efforts to restrict abortion access.

In early 2020, Becerra led a multi-state legal challenge to a Trump administration policy requiring insurers to bill separately for any abortion-related services and in 2019 he fought against high-profile changes to federal family planning grants.

Democrats have held up his work as California attorney general, particularly leading the defense of the Affordable Care Act in a challenge by Republican attorneys general, as crucial experience on health policy. Republicans, however, have said Becerra lacks the public health background needed to helm the HHS.

“Xavier Becerra has not had any experience in health care,” Sen. Steven Daines (R-Mont.) said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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