Senate confirms Xavier Becerra ’80 J.D. ’84 as health and human services secretary

March 18, 2021, 9:12 p.m.

Xavier Becerra ’80 J.D. ’84 was confirmed by the Senate as the secretary of health and human services in a 50-49 vote on Thursday, making him the first Latino to hold the position. 

Only one Republican — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — supported his nomination. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) did not vote. 

As the leader of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Becerra will play a major role in the Biden administration’s efforts to tackle COVID-19 and expand health care access while centering equity. The department oversees health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. 

“I understand the enormous challenges before us and our solemn responsibility to be faithful stewards of an agency that touches almost every aspect of our lives,” Becerra said during his confirmation hearing in February. “I’m humbled by the task. And I’m ready for it.” 

The Senate voted last week to bring Becerra’s nomination to a confirmation vote, bypassing the deadlocked Finance Committee. Since President Biden nominated Becerra, who is the former California attorney general and a former congressman, many Republicans have criticized his nomination, arguing that Becerra’s background makes him ill-suited for a public health role. Some have also denounced his support for abortion and Medicare for All. But Democrats pushed back, pointing to Becerra’s experience with health policy, both as attorney general and an elected leader. 

As California’s attorney general, Becerra filed over 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration, including on the issues of birth control, climate change and the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. He also led a legal campaign of 20 states and the District of Columbia to defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he helped author during his time in Congress. Becerra has pledged to defend and expand access to quality, affordable health care in his new role. 

California governor Gavin Newsom praised the Senate confirmation, saying that Becerra’s “distinguished record of public service, and lifelong commitment to the most vulnerable, reflect the best of California’s values and exactly the qualities we need in the national leaders who will shepherd us through the end of this pandemic.”

Becerra, the child of Mexican immigrants, was a fierce advocate for immigrant rights and equity throughout his two decades representing Californians in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he made history as the first Latino to serve on the Ways and Means Committee and eventually became the chair of the House Democratic Caucus. In his new role, Becerra will oversee HHS efforts to shelter child migrants amid a surge of border crossings. 

The first in his family to attend college, Becerra majored in economics at Stanford and lived in Casa Zapata, where he met his wife, Carolina Reyes ’81. He later attended Stanford Law School, an experience which he credits with strengthening his advocacy and public service skills. The couple have three daughters, two of whom graduated from Stanford.

“Stanford has given me a lot, including my family, and I am thankful for the experiences I had,” Becerra told The Daily in October.

Georgia Rosenberg is the Vol. 261 executive editor for print. She was previously a Vol. 260 news managing editor and a Vol. 258/259 desk editor for university news. Contact her at grosenberg 'at'!

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