A divided Senate on Thursday advanced Xavier Becerra’s nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after Maine Republican Susan Collins joined all of the chamber’s Democrats in backing a confirmation vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed a discharge petition to bring up the nomination after the Senate Finance Committee split along party lines on the nomination last week, creating an extra procedural hurdle. The vote on holding a confirmation vote was 51-48.
Though Democrats have long expressed confidence that Becerra would get through, it took until Thursday morning for Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to announce he would back the nominee. Soon after, Collins announced her support.
Both centrists cited Becerra’s commitment to work on rural health issues.
Becerra, the California attorney general, has come under fire from Republicans for his record on abortion rights and past support for "Medicare for All." Manchin said he had spoken with Becerra about the nominee’s pledge to “uphold the law in regards to the Hyde Amendment” — the longstanding ban on federal funding for abortion that Biden and other Democrats want to abolish.
Collins said she looked forward to working with Becerra on "shared goals" including lowering the price of prescription drugs and boosting domestic drug manufacturing to reduce reliance on global supply chains.
Democrats have warned that delays on confirming Becerra would hamper the country’s pandemic response.
Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the GOP’s opposition was rooted in the party’s hostility toward the Affordable Care Act, which Becerra helped draft as a House member and defended in court as California’s attorney general.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Becerra “a thoroughly partisan actor” and urged that his nomination be voted down.