Joe Biden campaigned on pledges to unite the country and defeat the pandemic; he continues to stress these twin priorities. But his nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, is a partisan culture warrior who undermines both pledges.
The Senate ought to reject Becerra’s nomination.
First off, Becerra isn’t qualified for the job. Facing a once-in-a-century pandemic, one might think that Biden would nominate, say, a doctor or a seasoned health-care executive to oversee the federal response and vaccine distribution. Donald Trump’s two HHS Secretaries fit that description.
But Becerra is a lawyer and career politician. He served 12 terms in the House of Representatives before becoming California’s attorney general in 2017. He has no experience in public health, large-scale logistics or other challenges of the pandemic.
What Becerra lacks in public-health experience, however, he makes up for in enthusiasm for his party’s most radical views.
For instance, Becerra has bragged that he “absolutely” supports “Medicare-for-all,” Bernie Sanders’ $34 trillion proposal to eliminate private health-insurance coverage and replace it with government-run plans. This idea is so toxic that it sank several Democratic presidential campaigns.
But if confirmed, Becerra would oversee Medicare, Medicaid and other health-care programs, which he could use to get the camel’s nose of socialized medicine under the tent of America’s health-care system. A government takeover of our health-care system rightly terrifies many Americans, and this position alone is disqualifying for an HHS nominee.
Becerra also belongs to the open-borders wing of his party. He has proposed to decriminalize illegal immigration, which could allow illegal aliens to receive government benefits such as Medicaid. Further, HHS has sensitive immigration responsibilities that a radical like Becerra would likely politicize.
But Becerra is most extreme when it comes to abortion. In Congress, he earned perfect scores from Planned Parenthood and NARAL by voting, for example, against the 2003 bill that banned partial-birth abortions. Becerra also cosponsored bills that would have mandated HHS to conduct research using human embryonic stem cells and forced religious employers like Hobby Lobby to cover contraception, such as the morning-after pill, that violates their sincere religious convictions.
Besides his extreme views, though, perhaps most alarming is how Becerra has wielded his power as attorney general to harass his political opponents with a flood of lawsuits and prosecutions.
Becerra has targeted social conservatives, religious groups and others who deny the Democratic Party’s dogmas about life, marriage and the family. That’s why he has enforced California’s unconstitutional lockdowns against houses of worship while Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed attended dinner parties at the French Laundry.
Consider two of Becerra’s rogue abuses of the law and his office.
Becerra prosecuted pro-life activists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, who released undercover footage of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of the body parts of aborted babies.
These activists employed tactics little different than those used by animal-rights activists concerned about factory farming, but they exposed the wrong kind of business. Becerra charged the activists with 15 felonies, mostly for recording conversations in violation of California’s two-party consent law. The Los Angeles Times editorial board – not exactly ardent pro-lifers – commented that “it’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy.”
Another example is the Supreme Court case bearing his name, NIFLA v. Becerra.
Becerra defended California’s Reproductive FACT Act, a law targeting pro-life pregnancy crisis centers. The FACT Act compelled licensed pro-life clinics to distribute notices to their patients advertising the state’s free and low-cost abortion programs. The act also required unlicensed pregnancy centers – which frequently provide ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and counseling to women in need – to “conspicuously” post “in no less than 48-point type” that they are “not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California.”
The law notoriously did not impose the same demands on other clinics, such as those that provide free birth control.
The Supreme Court ruled against Becerra, explaining that the act compelled pro-life clinics to promote the very service they exist to oppose, a gross violation of the First Amendment. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his concurring opinion, “this law is a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression.”
That line serves as a succinct indictment of Becerra’s abusive tenure as attorney general.
HHS has the largest budget in the federal government – even bigger than the Pentagon’s – and one of the most powerful bureaucracies. Given how Becerra conducted himself as a state attorney general, who can doubt that he would use HHS’s vast resources and powers to keep waging his culture war?
As we fight to defeat the coronavirus, America deserves a professional at HHS – not a partisan culture warrior. Becerra’s zeal for lockdowns, radical politics and abuse of power won’t distribute a single vaccine or improve health care for a single citizen. But he will threaten on-the-job health insurance and persecute disfavored political opponents.
Any senator who supports his nomination will bear responsibility for his all-too-predictable radical actions in office.