Republican senators and pro-life groups have raised concerns about President Joe Biden's pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, who they warn has a record of using his power to go after his enemies, including people of faith and pro-lifers.
Over 60 pro-life advocates sent a letter to ranking members of the U.S. Senate HELP and Finance Committees urging them to reject Becerra, calling him an "enemy to every pro-life policy and law" who "has demonstrated complete disregard for the religious and moral convictions of those opposed to the brutal act of abortion."
The letter was spearheaded by the pro-life lobbying group Susan B. Anthony List and signed by leaders such as Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, Ethics and Public Policy Center President Ryan Anderson and the heads of other pro-life organizations.
“On the issue of abortion, Xavier Becerra has a decades-old track record of siding with the abortion lobby whenever possible and using the power of whatever office he is in to try and force others to share his enthusiastic support of abortion up until the moment of birth,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of the pro-life campus organization Students for Life of America.
Hawkins, who signed the letter, moderated a panel last Wednesday that featured Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Steve Daines, R-Mont., and SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
Hawkins maintained that the confirmation of Becerra to the position of secretary of HHS was something that “every single pro-lifer should be concerned about.”
Becerra, who formerly served as a congressman in the U.S. House from California, currently serves as the state's attorney general and must be confirmed by the Senate before he can serve as Biden's HHS secretary.
Hawkins said that as secretary of HHS, Becerra would oversee “over $87 billion of our taxpayer funds and discretionary budget authority and over $1.2 trillion in mandatory funding.”
Dannenfelser added that when “every other state that did something bold” by passing pro-life measures, “he would lead all the other AGs in trying to shut down every pro-life measure that every other state was doing.” She also recalled how Becerra prosecuted David Daleiden, the pro-life activist journalist who exposed Planned Parenthood’s selling of aborted baby body parts.
“When he was told just very recently … by the Trump administration that we’ll take $200 million away of Medicaid funding unless you comply with the Weldon Amendment that would require you to obey the consciences of Californians and … not force health care workers and taxpayers to pay for abortion, he (Becerra) said I’d rather give up that funding … for California than to enforce the Weldon Amendment,” she continued.
“He was the one who was spearheading all of the amicus briefs to the … courts to make sure that during COVID, that there could continue to be mail-order abortions, chemical abortions,” Dannenfelser added.
Hawkins expressed disgust that Becerra “was uniting 20 other attorney generals across the country to sue the FDA to dispense the abortion pills without a doctor ever seeing a woman, without a woman ever getting a blood test because that was his number one priority amidst the COVID pandemic.”
Cotton, who previously served in the House with Becerra, said he “knew what a far-left radical he was,” but “only once he became California’s top law enforcement officer did he have the power to act unilaterally on those radical ideas.”
“The common thread of Xavier Becerra’s tenure as attorney general of California is that he abuses the law to target his enemies, which curiously enough always seem to be people of faith and pro-lifers and other social conservatives. If he’s done it with the power he has as attorney general of California, of course he will do it with the vastly greater power he would have as the Secretary for Health and Human Services,” Cotton warned.
While “any nominee to HHS by this president is going to be bad,” according to Dannenfelser, Becerra is the “worst-case scenario.”
“I do think it’s important to put a marker down and say there is some line that we must draw, that an advocate, an extreme abortion absolutist advocate as the head of HHS, is a bridge too far even for an administration like this. … We choose this nominee to say … no and send a message when the Senate is so close, the House is so close, that whoever is heading HHS needs to be closer to those margins than this person is,” she said.
Cotton agreed with Dannenfelser that “we’re not going to get a great secretary of Health and Human Services out of Joe Biden.” He predicted that if efforts to stop Becerra’s confirmation to the post are successful, Biden’s subsequent nominee “will have watched what happened to Xavier Becerra though and recognize that if he crosses these far-left radical lines, that he is apt to face political blowback as well.”
Much of the panel's conversation focused on outlining a strategy that pro-life Americans can use to persuade elected officials to oppose Becerra’s confirmation in light of the balance of power in Washington.
Democrats hold a narrow 50-50 majority in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. Any effort to block Becerra’s confirmation would require the support of all 50 Senate Republicans and at least one Senate Democrat.
According to Cotton, “Some Democrats may be troubled by some of the most extreme steps he’s taken or the most extreme ideas of the far-left when it comes to advocating for abortion, but there’s a whole host of reasons to oppose Xavier Becerra in addition to his extreme views on abortion.”
He cited Becerra’s lack of experience in the health care industry as well as his support for Medicare for All as reasons that might lead some of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate to oppose his confirmation.
“So there are ample grounds to oppose Xavier Becerra’s nomination. We don’t need 51 senators to all agree on why they say no; we just need 51 senators to say no,” Cotton said.
Dannenfelser mentioned pro-life Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as the most important senator that pro-lifers should contact and urge him to oppose Becerra’s confirmation.
She also highlighted the importance of contacting Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pro-abortion Republicans who might be more disposed to support Becerra’s confirmation than the rest of their Republican colleagues.
She also listed Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., as lawmakers who pro-lifers should try to convince to vote against Becerra’s confirmation. Tester represents a state that routinely votes Republican in presidential elections, while Sinema represents a swing state that narrowly voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election.
Daines, the other senator on the panel, suggested that Sen. Bob Casey, R-Pa., could be receptive to arguments against Becerra because “he has sided with us in the past on some critical pro-life votes.”
Casey serves on the Senate Finance Committee, which, owing to the close margin in the Senate, has an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Should Casey vote with all Republicans to oppose Becerra’s confirmation, that would be enough to prevent his nomination from going to the full Senate.
Becerra will appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions on Tuesday and an additional hearing will take place in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. While Casey also serves on the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions, so do Murkowski and Collins, the two Republicans most likely to support his confirmation.
During the Trump administration, a small number of former president’s cabinet nominees were opposed by all members of the opposing political party and at least one member of his own party. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was opposed by all 48 Senate Democrats as well as Collins and Murkowski.
DeVos was confirmed to the position, but Vice President Mike Pence had to cast the tie-breaking vote. Trump’s first nominee to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, was opposed by all 48 Democrats and Collins.
So far, Biden’s cabinet nominees have been confirmed with varying degrees of bipartisan support. With several confirmation votes pending, the cabinet member who received the slimmest margin of support was Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was supported by all 50 Senate Democrats and six Senate Republicans.
With Becerra’s confirmation hearings expected to take place this week, Ethics and Public Policy Center President Ryan T. Anderson issued a statement warning about the consequences of Becerra’s confirmation: “Xavier Becerra is simply unqualified to be Secretary of HHS. He has no relevant medical expertise, rendering him particularly unsuited to assume this position amid a pandemic.
“Indeed, his only health care qualifications seem to be his attacks on pro-life medicine, his persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and his defense of an unlawful California abortion mandate. President Biden promised to heal and unify the country, but his nomination of an ideological culture warrior like Becerra will only drive us further apart,” he added.
EPPC Senior Fellow Roger Severino, who previously headed the HHS Office for Civil Rights during the Trump administration, recalled, “When I was head of Civil Rights at HHS, I twice held Becerra in violation of laws protecting conscience in health care resulting in a $200 million disallowance of HHS funds to California.”
He called the idea of Becerra leading the HHS “the very agency that investigated him and found he broke the law” an “astounding conflict of interest.”