Biden health nominee faces first Senate test

President Biden’s nominee to lead the massive federal health agency faced his first hearing in the Senate on Tuesday, with some Republicans indicating he doesn’t have the experience necessary for the job but others appearing to leave the door open to supporting him.

Some Senate Republicans and outside conservative groups have ramped up criticism of Xavier Becerra in the days leading up to his confirmation hearing, arguing he is an extremist who has no health care experience, making him unqualified to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“I’m not sure that you have the necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment,” said Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, adding that he would keep an open mind.

Why it matters: While the committee will not vote on Becerra’s confirmation — the Senate Finance committee will — some of the members’ support will be crucial for his nomination to pass the Senate.

Becerra must win the support of all 50 Senate Democrats to be confirmed by the Senate if he doesn’t get any votes from Republicans and Vice President Harris breaks a tie.

But eyes are also on moderate Republicans who have supported some of Biden’s other nominees, given the tight majority Democrats have in the Senate.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told Becerra on Tuesday, “I think we can reach common ground on many issues” except for abortion, but also didn’t indicate if he would support his nomination.