That changed Monday when Biden nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as health and human services secretary, placing the former congressman in a crucial role battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
When serving in Washington, the 62-year-old represented an insular left-wing Los Angeles district for a quarter-century — where Hillary Clinton and Biden both received over 80% of the presidential vote.
The pick appeased identity politics-obsessed groups, who lobbied Biden to select more Hispanic nominees. If confirmed, Becerra would become “the first” (a theme) Latino to lead HHS. Becerra also had been considered for attorney general, as Biden faced pressure from racial activist groups to “diversify” his Cabinet appointments.
Unlike former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who spent much of this year advising Biden on pandemic-related matters, Becerra has no discernible health leadership experience, other than supporting a government takeover of health care.
Even the New York Times called it a surprising choice, while the AP turned the news story into a partisan editorial, claiming this brings “a more methodical approach, seeking results by applying scientific knowledge in what he says will be a transparent and disciplined manner.”
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said, “I think most of us feel like there should be some deference in the president-elect’s choice for his cabinet, but some of these folks are pretty radical, and he’s pretty radical.”
Becerra panders to the Planned Parenthood contingent. And this may be the chief reason for his nomination.
HotAir’s Ed Morrissey reports, “Becerra has long taken a hostile position toward conscience protections and personal choice, especially on the basis of religious belief.”
Three years ago, Becerra filed felony charges against pro-life activists who went undercover to expose Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling the body parts of aborted babies to biotech companies.
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser released a statement arguing that Becerra “is aggressively pro-abortion and a foe of free speech.”
HHS has vast rule-making authority, making it important to advocates on both sides of the abortion issue. Becerra’s selection makes it clear the Biden administration could push the limits of that authority.
News also broke Monday night that Biden will nominate retired four-star Army general Lloyd Austin to be secretary of defense. Austin would be “the first” Black leader of the Pentagon.
Although several previous defense secretaries served in the military, only two — George Marshall and James Mattis — were career officers. Austin retired from the Army in 2016 after more than four decades of service.
Biden tapped the Alabama native over the erstwhile front-runner, Michèle Flournoy, a former top Obama administration Defense Department official, who would have been “the first” woman in the job.
The career military officer, 67, is a West Point graduate, who was commander in Baghdad of the Multinational Corps-Iraq in 2008 when Biden became vice president and Commanding General of U.S. Forces-Iraq in 2010.
The National Security Act requires a seven-year gap between the end of active duty service and becoming secretary of defense. Most recently, Gen. Mattis received a waiver allowing him to lead the Pentagon despite not having been retired for the requisite seven years.
However, the law requiring a pause intends for civilian control of the military. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a former Marine, said Tuesday the “Mattis waiver was supposed to be a one-off, not the start of a trend that’s bad for civ-mil relations.”
In their analysis, the New York Times did admit:
“General Austin is known as a strong battlefield commander but is less known for his political instincts. He has sometimes stumbled in congressional hearings, including a session in 2015 when he acknowledged, under testy questioning, that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters had gone nowhere.”
Still, the Austin choice is not nearly as alarming as Becerra. If the GOP can win at least one Georgia Senate seat next month, they can stop the Californian. Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, arguably the most liberal Republican in Washington, expressed concern over Becerra, saying she was “surprised that it wasn’t an individual who had a health care background.”
A.J. Kaufman is an Alpha News columnist. His work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Indianapolis Star, Israel National News, Orange County Register, St. Cloud Times, Star-Tribune, and across AIM Media Midwest and the Internet. Kaufman previously worked as a school teacher and military historian.