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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on November 12, 2019.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on November 12, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Xavier Becerra, Biden Nominee to Lead HHS, Said in 2017 That He 'Absolutely' Supports Medicare for All

"We'll get to see how much he meant it."

Jake Johnson

President-elect Joe Biden's reported decision to nominate California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services amid a deadly pandemic was welcomed by progressives as a positive and encouraging step, given Becerra's record of supporting Medicare for All, taking legal action against corporate healthcare giants, and advocating bold steps to lower drug prices.

"It's exciting that we'll finally have a Medicare for All advocate leading the Department of Health and Human Services."
—Rep. Rashida Tlaib

Prior to becoming California's top law enforcement official, Becerra served 12 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. During an interview in 2017, Becerra said he "absolutely" supports the kind of single-payer plan championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

"I've been a supporter of Medicare for All for the 24 years that I was in Congress," said Becerra. "This year, as attorney general, I would fight for that if we had an opportunity to put that forward in the state of California, because I think what we do is we give people that certainty that they're going to able to access a doctor or a hospital."

If confirmed as HHS secretary, Becerra would have the power to grant waivers allowing states to set up their own single-payer systems—an approach endorsed by one coalition of single-payer proponents in California.

"That's exactly our hope and strategy—to push for a waiver at the state level so that Governor Newsom can fulfill his campaign promise for single-payer," tweeted Healthy California Now. "He made the same request of the Trump administration—on his first day in office!—but was of course ignored."

After years of an HHS led by former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar—who is openly hostile to the idea of a single-payer healthcare system—Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said late Sunday that "it's exciting that we'll finally have a Medicare for All advocate leading the Department of Health and Human Services."

But while Becerra's past support for Medicare for All was seen as a hopeful sign, progressives stressed that continued public pressure and relentless grassroots work will still be needed to advance the cause of a national single-payer system during the incoming Biden administration.

Winnie Wong, a former senior adviser to Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted that Becerra is "a good California liberal who will work within an entrenched bureaucracy to get us to a public option."

He is not, however, "gonna set the bridge on fire on his personal crusade to abolish private insurers," Wong added. "That's on us!"

As the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, "Although Mr. Becerra has endorsed Medicare for All... people familiar with the process said he supports Mr. Biden's plan to expand healthcare access through a public option."

The New York Times similarly reported that "a source familiar with the selection said Mr. Becerra would support the president-elect's call for strengthening and preserving the ACA and would not be pushing Medicare for All while in office."

Becerra, who as California AG has led legal fights against the Trump administration's efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act and GOP attacks on reproductive rights, became Biden's favorite to lead HHS after Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo abruptly withdrew her name from consideration last week in the face of growing progressive backlash.

As The Daily Poster's David Sirota and Andrew Perez wrote late Sunday, Becerra would if confirmed "be in a position to take the action on drug prices that he previously urged the Obama administration to take—though it remains unclear whether Biden would support such a move."

"Back in 2016," Sirota and Perez noted, "Becerra was one of the 51 House Democratic lawmakers who signed a letter calling on Obama's Health and Human Services secretary to use so-called 'march-in rights' to effectively rescind exclusive patents for medicines whose research and development was originally funded by government agencies."

"This year, Becerra was one of 34 state attorneys general to sign a letter demanding the federal government use march-in rights to make the early-onset Covid treatment remdesivir—whose research and development was sponsored by the government—more widely available and affordable to all," added Sirota and Perez.

Sent to Azar and National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins in August, the letter declares, "Now more than ever, the American public needs the support of the federal government in helping them afford Covid-19-related treatment."


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