Vice President Kamala Harris Friday swore into office the latest member of the Biden Cabinet.
Former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra took the oath in the Vice President’s ceremonial office, with his wife Dr. Carolina Reyes holding a Bible, to become the latest Department of Health and Human Services Secretary.
The position Becerra fills is key position in the administration’s coronavirus response and its ambitious push to lower drug costs, expand insurance coverage, and eliminate racial disparities in medical care.
The 50-49 largely party-line Senate vote to approve him, made the 63-year-old Becerra the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
The $1.4 trillion agency encompasses health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, advanced medical research, substance abuse treatment, and the welfare of children, including hundreds of Central American migrants arriving daily at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Becerra has been California’s attorney general since 2017. He sued the Trump administration 124 times on a range of policy issues, earning the ire of conservatives. Before that he represented a Los Angeles-area district in the U.S. House for 24 years. A lawyer, not a doctor, his main experience with the health care system came through helping to pass the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and defending it when Donald Trump was president.
Leading Republicans have dismissed Becerra as unfit. But the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association supported his nomination. Two influential lobbying groups, representing the drug industry and health insurers, said after the vote that they look forward to a collaborative working relationship.