Senate confirms Becerra in tight vote with just one GOP defection

The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a 50-49 vote.

Republicans were nearly unanimous in their opposition to Becerra, the current attorney general of California. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) was the only Republican to vote in favor of his confirmation.

Collins previously cited Becerra’s commitment to rural health care, and a shared goal of lowering drug prices, among her reasons for supporting him.

Becerra was attacked for his views on abortion and past support for “Medicare for All,” with conservatives accusing him of being a liberal extremist with no experience in health care.

Becerra will take the helm of the health agency nearly two months into President Biden‘s administration, with the nation still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Democrats have warned that the delay in confirming Becerra will hamper the country’s pandemic response.

Becerra will play a major role in the government’s COVID-19 response, but he will also need to guide the massive bureaucracy through a host of other challenges, including the influx of migrants at the border. HHS is responsible for housing and caring for the thousands of detained migrant children.