A day after COVID-19 deaths in this nation hit the half-million mark, President Biden’s choice for secretary of health and human services — a critical post that needs to be filled quickly at a moment like this — ran into some political headwinds. Well, more precisely some gusts of Republican-generated hot air from the Ted Cruz wing of the party.
Xavier Becerra, who has ably served as California’s attorney general for the past four years, and would be the first Latino to lead HHS, ought to have been confirmed already. Instead, he’s been subjected to more than the usual GOP vitriol — attacked unfairly as unqualified, because he’s not a health care professional, and as some wild-eyed radical, prepared to rip apart the nation’s health care system.
The usual cast of characters who voted to confirm one incompetent Trump nominee after another now finds Becerra wanting. And their fellow travelers on the right — Heritage Action, Judicial Crisis Network, and Americans for Public Trust — are putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads aimed at defeating his nomination.
Becerra, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, certainly tried to reach across party lines, especially on the critical issue of the pandemic, on vaccine distribution, and making COVID treatments more readily available.
“I am ready to work with you, our state and local partners, and across government to get this right,” he said in his opening remarks.
He emphasized his record as attorney general in fighting Medicare and Medicaid fraud, “holding opioid manufacturers accountable for the addiction crisis and successfully taking on hospitals and drug makers who unfairly jacked up prices on patients.”
But for some Republicans, those are “radical” notions. And so Cruz, fresh from his Cancun excursion at the height of the storm devastation in Texas, along with Senator Tom Cotton and nine other Senate colleagues, sent a letter to President Biden demanding he withdraw Becerra’s nomination. They cited his “lack of healthcare experience” and his “ardent support of radical policies.”
Of course, in the last four decades, only three of 10 Senate-confirmed HHS secretaries had medical degrees, including President Trump’s first HHS secretary, Tom Price, a former orthopedic surgeon, who was forced to resign after eight months on the job for taking a few too many charter flights on the taxpayers’ dime.
Is that the standard here for Cruz and Cotton and their merry band of Becerra bashers?
As for his “radical agenda,” during his more than two decades in Congress, Becerra did indeed support, and helped write, the Affordable Care Act and an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
He pledged during his hearing to “strengthen our Medicare and Medicaid lifelines, reduce the cost of health care and prescription drugs, and ensure we are accountable.” Some of that may strike fear in the hearts of the health care establishment, but they are goals worth pursuing.
The HHS portfolio is, of course, an enormous one that includes foster care programs, child care, and Head Start.
But it is the public health aspects of the job that now loom large, and Becerra’s pledge to “restore faith in our public health institutions” by “putting science and facts first” is what should count — especially after four years that saw career scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci either muzzled or forced to tiptoe around the rantings of a president utterly unhindered by medical facts.
Becerra is being targeted by the Republican right largely because of some of those lawsuits he filed as attorney general (many of them supported by a vast array of his fellow attorneys general) to rein in the worst impulses of the Trump administration on immigration, health care, and the environment. He’s smart and he’s fearless.
And if good people are known by the enemies they make, well then, raising the blood pressure of the likes of Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton isn’t such a bad thing.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.