Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, speaks during a press conference at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, the United States, on Tuesday, November 12, 2019.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President-elect Joe Biden will select Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, as director of the Department of Health and Human Services, three sources familiar with the decision told NBC News.
If Becerra is confirmed, it will play a vital role in the nation's response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,000 people die from the virus every day as the rising number of cases leads to hospitalizations and threatens to overwhelm the country's health system.
The New York Times reported the news first.
Biden's selection of Becerra, 62, comes under the request of the Hispanic Caucus of Congress that the president-elect include more Hispanics in his cabinet selection. Biden has made diversity a core value in his new administration but has recently been criticized for not moving fast enough to include people of color among the top cabinet members.
Becerra would be the first Latino to head the department. The pandemic had a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic Americans, who are more likely to get the virus, hospitalized and die than white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Becerra, the first Hispanic American to serve as attorney general in California, has led a coalition of 20 states defending the Affordable Care Act against efforts by the Trump administration and Republican-led states to invalidate the landmark health bill to explain.
Democrats have warned that the Trump administration's efforts to overthrow the ACA would remove a critical safety net for Americans who lost their jobs, and therefore their health insurance, during the pandemic.
Becerra was also a twelve-year-old member of the US House of Representatives. Shortly after the elected Vice President Kamala Harris stepped down from the US Senate, he assumed the office of California Attorney General.
As HHS secretary, Becerra would head a sprawling division overseeing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the National Institutes of Health.
He would play a key role in plans to immunize tens of millions of Americans against coronavirus. The Federal Drug Administration is expected to approve emergency use approval this month for Pfizer and Moderna's vaccine candidates that have shown high levels of effectiveness in clinical trials.
Current HHS secretary Alex Azar said Sunday that a vaccine could be approved in a few days. The FDA will meet on December 10th to review Pfizer's candidates and on December 17th to review Modernas.
Becerra would also be responsible for overseeing efforts to speed up coronavirus testing. More than eight months after the pandemic started, Americans in many parts of the country are having to wait hours for tests and slow processing times to get results.
Biden has made health care reform an important part of his agenda, pledging to support Obamacare and add a Medicare-like public option. The president-elect faces an uphill battle to deliver on these promises, with the Senate wavering between Republican and Democratic control. However, if successful, Becerra would play an important role in managing such reforms.