The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a new leader – thanks to the narrowest of margins.
The U.S. Senate voted 50-49 Thursday to approve former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as the nation’s top federal health official, with Democratic Sen. Mazie Horono’s abstention countered by a “yes” vote by GOP Sen. Susan Collins – making her the only Republican senator to vote as such.
“I’m honored and humbled by today’s vote in the Senate. Thank you,” Becerra tweeted not long after the final tally was reached. “I’m ready to get to work at @HHSgov.”
A son of Mexican immigrants, Becerra, who was California’s first Hispanic Attorney General, will become the nation’s first Hispanic HHS Secretary.
In addition to serving as California’s top law-enforcement official, Becerra also previously spent 12 terms in Congress as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving a Los Angeles-area district and ascending to Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He also served one term in the California Legislature before being sworn in as California Attorney General in 2017.
Congressional Republicans largely contended that Becerra lacked the necessary experience in healthcare for his new role – a claim countered by Democrats who noted that they had no issues approving a former pharmaceutical executive, Alex Azar, to fill the position under former President Trump.
Becerra’s top priority will doubtlessly be addressing the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, which has sickened more than 120 million people worldwide, killing 2.67 million – including more than 30 million cases and nearly 550,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.