March 11,2021

Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on the Nomination of Xavier Becerra to be HHS Secretary

As Prepared for Delivery

Video Available Here

The Senate is debating whether to discharge Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services from the Finance Committee.

I want to begin with a simple message. Holding up the nomination of Attorney General Becerra to lead HHS blocks urgent work that needs to get done today. So I’m on the floor this morning appealing for the Senate to act quickly – without politics getting in the way – to confirm this nominee.

I also believe moving quickly on this nomination would help to achieve something that I’ve heard a lot of Senators talk about in the last few weeks. Last Friday and Saturday I spent essentially 24 hours at this desk while the Senate debated a host of different issues. Over the course of that debate – and in the weeks before it – many Senators talked about wanting to get past disagreements and find unity.

There could not be a more unifying prospect than ending the pandemic as quickly as possible, preventing as many COVID-19 deaths as possible, and helping the American people get back to their normal lives as soon as possible.

Having a confirmed secretary leading the Department of Health and Human Services is key to that task. The department is at the forefront of the effort to end our public health nightmare. It’s leading the distribution of vaccines. It’s working to get PPE into the hands of nurses and doctors who still desperately need more of it. It’s getting new resources to rural hospitals to keep them afloat and keep their doors open to patients who have nowhere else to go during this crisis.

HHS is right at the middle of a government-wide COVID response, coordinating work at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the CDC, NIH, the National Guard, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, private health care systems and doctors across the country, and many more individuals and organizations.

I’ve heard Senators say that Attorney General Becerra doesn’t have the right leadership experience. That’s what they’re saying about the head of the nation’s second-largest Department of Justice. The person in charge of a billion-dollar budget. In charge of more than 4,000 employees. The top law enforcement official in what would be the fifth largest economy in the world. He knows what it takes to run a large agency, no question about it.

What about his health care background? He spent years and years on the Ways and Means Committee, one of the key committees with jurisdiction over health care policy. He was involved in writing and debating major pieces of health care legislation, including the Affordable Care Act. As California’s Attorney General he’s defended the ACA in court. When the pandemic hit, he stepped up and fought to protect the health and wellbeing of all Californians, particularly nurses, doctors and other workers who found themselves in harm’s way.

Everybody understands that members of the opposing party will have disagreements on policy issues. Women’s health care was obviously one of those issues that came up during the nomination hearing. But AG Becerra made it clear to members of the Finance Committee that he will follow the law, he will be accessible to Senators, and he will work to find common ground on key health care issues even when it’s hard.

That’s awfully refreshing after four years of blather about repeal and replace, empty promises on drug prices, and partisan policies that favored insurance companies over typical American consumers.

In my view, AG Becerra proved in his nomination hearing that he is ready to lead HHS, and he knows health policy inside and out. That shouldn’t have been any surprise, because he’s got decades of valuable leadership and policy experience that will help him succeed in this job.

Our country’s health care system is still strained to the max by the pandemic. On Saturday the Senate passed one of the largest public health packages in our nation’s history to crush this pandemic. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and the Biden administration is doing everything it can to acquire more vaccines and get shots into arms, but it’s not over yet. Bottom line, a country facing a health care crisis needs the Health and Human Services Secretary confirmed and on the job as soon as possible. There is no justification for delay – and delay only sets back our efforts to end this pandemic.

So I urge my colleagues to support this nomination’s discharge from the Finance Committee, and I hope the Senate approves the Becerra nomination as quickly as possible.