WASHINGTON (CBS SF / CNN) — President Joe Biden’s nominee for the nation’s top health position Xavier Becerra will stress his upbringing as a son of a Mexican immigrant, his father’s recent passing and his history expanding health care access during his time as a longtime congressman and California’s attorney general, in a pitch to senators at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, according to his prepared opening statement first obtained by CNN.
“I am here because my parents Manuel and Maria Teresa — who had only their health and hope when they settled in Sacramento — were tireless believers in earning the American Dream,” Becerra plans to say in his opening statement. He would be the first Latino HHS secretary and served as the first Latino California attorney general.READ MORE: Bay Area Heat Wave Rekindles Memories Of Flex Alerts, Rotating Outages
“We lost my dad last year on New Year’s Day. When the end came, my Dad knew we were there with him — at his side, in our home. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of Americans haven’t had that closure this past year. That, senators, is why I’m here today,” he is expected to say.
Biden selected Becerra, currently California’s attorney general, as his Health and Human Services secretary in early December. Becerra is set to testify before the Senate Health Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Only the finance committee will vote on his nomination.
His nomination has already attracted controversy, with Republicans citing his support for abortion rights and other Democratic policies. It comes as Biden’s nomination for the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, is on the brink of collapsing, with at least one Democratic senator and a couple moderate Republican lawmakers announcing they will not support her.
Becerra’s pick has been controversial since the start, in part because he does not have a direct background in health care.
“I think it is going to be a lot of focus on his lack of qualifications. You have someone whose only experience on health care is suing people about it,” a Republican aide familiar with the planning said.
The hearing Tuesday, however, will also give a snapshot into how some more moderate Republicans may approach the nomination as Republican Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski all serve on the committee.
In private meetings, one aide familiar with the conversations said that the questions to Becerra have been less hard-charging and more specific to things members might need from the administration on health care.
“This is one of the few opportunities for members,” the aide said. “If you spend all your time trying to ding him or score points instead of asking for his help on some issues you care about, it could be a missed opportunity.”
Another source familiar with his remarks said their attacks are anticipated. But he’s expected to defend himself against those critiques, explaining his nearly 30 years of career focus on health care including strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, and vow bipartisanship.
“The mission of HHS — to enhance the health and wellbeing of all Americans — is core to who I am. When I was a child, my mom had a health scare: she was rushed to the hospital after hemorrhaging at home. The image is seared in my memory. We were lucky: my mom is now 87 years old,” Becerra is expected to say.
As secretary, he would play a key role in combating the coronavirus pandemic, which is soon expected to claim a milestone of 500,000 American lives. The Biden administration has been operating without anyone in the post for more than a month.
In his opening statement, Becerra plans to address how he, as attorney general, responded to the pandemic in his own state. Becerra will say that HHS has a “central role” in meeting the ambitious goals Biden set to battle the pandemic and do it in a bipartisan fashion.READ MORE: COVID: Experts Warn More Contagious Delta Variant Could Sicken Unvaccinated
“As attorney general, I saw the importance of this on the frontlines. I worked with colleagues in other states — both Republicans and Democrats — to make COVID treatments more readily available. I am ready to work with you, our state and local partners, and across government, to get this right,” Becerra is expected to say.
One of his highest-profile health care roles recently has been chief defender of the Affordable Care Act in court.
While the Trump administration joined a coalition of Republican state attorneys general fighting to invalidate the landmark health reform law, Becerra has led a group of Democratic attorneys general arguing why the law remains valid. At issue is whether Congress’ reducing the penalty for not having health insurance to zero rendered the individual mandate unconstitutional, which would cause the entire law to fall.
In the past, Becerra has been outspoken on the fight for women’s health, the rights of undocumented immigrants and his support for Medicare for All, making him a target for attacks from republicans and potentially more conservative Democrats.
But the goal will be for Becerra to avoid the same reaction Tanden, who is facing public rejection from lawmakers in both parties.
One source close to the White House, said they were “confident,” with Becerra’s nomination and ready to move “full-steam ahead.”
“The attorney general has been met well in meetings with dozens of Democrats and we are confident in the nominee,” another source familiar with his confirmation preparation said.
Republican senators have been attacking Becerra since he was nominated, but they alone don’t have the votes to deny Becerra as Democrats are in the hold a narrow Senate majority with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the 51-50 tie-breaker.
In a floor speech last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted Becerra’s liberal leanings.
“Curiously, the President’s candidate to run the Department of Health and Human Services is the famously partisan attorney general of California,” McConnell said. “His recent experience in health policies seems largely limited to promoting abortion-on-demand and suing groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, which dare to live out their religious convictions.”
Conservatives also oppose him because of his support of Medicare for All and abortion rights, with Heritage Action for America committing $600,000 to an advertising and grassroots campaign to torpedo the nomination.
And on Monday, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas launched a digital advertisement in Georgia and New Hampshire targeting Becerra and tying him to California’s response to the pandemic — while pressuring any lawmakers up for election next cycle.
Cotton has been campaigning against Becerra for months, highlighting multiple issues with the nominee, from keeping California’s schools, churches and small businesses closed to his support for abortion rights.MORE NEWS: COVID: Excitement Builds As Bay Area Counts Down To June 15 Reopening
“Xavier Becerra is a radical liberal with no real public health experience besides enforcing California’s disastrous lockdowns. If confirmed, Xavier Becerra will put the health insurance we get at our jobs at risk. Any senator who votes for Xavier Becerra will face a reckoning from voters in the next election,” a statement in the announcement read.