The Senate on Thursday narrowly voted to confirm Xavier Becerra to be President Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services, elevating the California attorney general to a crucial post for much of Mr. Biden’s early agenda.
Mr. Becerra will now be tasked with helping oversee the Biden administration’s responses both to the coronavirus pandemic and the surge of migrants trying to cross the U. S.-Mexico border.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is housed within HHS.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer praised Mr. Becerra, a former congressman, for fighting to expand health care access despite his lack of direct executive experience on health care.
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“Attorney General Becerra’s nomination should not have taken this long,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Republicans questioned whether someone like Mr. Becerra, who has staked out staunchly liberal positions on hot-button issues such as abortion and gun control, should be tasked with overseeing such a critical agency.
“I believe Mr. Becerra is the single worst Cabinet nominee put forward by Joe Biden to serve in the Cabinet,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican. “Mr. Becerra’s only qualification, and indeed the qualification that earned him this nomination, is he is a radical left-wing trial attorney.”
The 50-49 vote was the narrowest vote margin for one of Mr. Biden’s Cabinet-level nominees.
The Senate voted 51-40 this week to confirm Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American to lead the department.
In February, the Senate voted 56-43 to confirm embattled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is struggling to deal with the chaos at the border.
Though Democrats control the Senate, Mr. Biden has lagged his most recent predecessors on the pace of getting Cabinet-level nominees confirmed.
Mr. Schumer said the Senate was now on track to confirm every available Cabinet secretary nominee by early next week.
Mr. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of Neera Tanden, his pick to lead the White House budget office, after senators in both parties raised concerns about her past attacks on members.
Democrats control the floor in the 50-50 split chamber thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.