President-elect Joe Biden has appointed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Secretary of the US Department of Health.
If this were confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino to oversee the department, which is designed to play an important role in spreading a coronavirus vaccine and building public confidence in it. Becerra replaced Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as Attorney General in California in 2017 and has more than two decades of experience in Congress.
Becerra would also play a role at a time when Latin Americans are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. According to Salud America, coronavirus hospitalizations are 3.9 times more common for Latin Americans than for White Americans. In Utah, Latinos make up 14% of the population but 25% of coronavirus cases. The Latinx populations in Oregon and Washington make up 13% of the population of each state, but make up 32.6% and 36% of the coronavirus cases in the states, respectively.
Becerra is also a fierce opponent of Donald Trump and has filed more than 100 lawsuits against Trump and his administration’s policies, more than half of which focus on the environment, according to CNN. The attorney general also fought the Trump administration under the DACA program and the Affordable Care Act.
“Becerra has addressed some of the major health issues he would face as HHS secretary, including revitalizing the ACA and curbing healthcare costs,” Larry Levitt, executive vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation told CNN. He “has a proven ability to speak to the public about the complexities of health problems, which is an important part of the job.”
As California’s attorney general, Becerra filed a lawsuit against Sutter Health, a system of 24 hospitals and more than 12,000 doctors in the state, for using anti-competitive practices to consolidate market power. Sutter eventually settled, paid $ 575 million, and promised to change some of his practices.
The Hispanic Caucus of Congress praised Becerra’s appointment and welcomed the news in “a moment of crisis”. The caucus also urges Biden to appoint five Latin Americans to his cabinet, including Latin Americans in prominent positions.
Biden has now named two Latinos to the top positions in his administration. Alejandro Mayorkas was tapped last week by the president-elect as director of the Ministry of Homeland Security.