The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, to be US secretary of health, the first Latino to head the department now leading the nation’s Covid-19 fight.

Senators voted 50 to 49, with one Republican voting yes, to confirm the 63-year-old son of Mexican immigrants to a position in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.

The Department of Health and Human Services is a sprawling agency that oversees the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issues coronavirus guidelines.

Democrats portrayed Becerra as a health care champion who will improve health conditions, coverage and care for all Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said confirmation “should not have taken this long,” but Republicans sought to derail the nomination from the moment Biden announced his choice.

He noted how Republicans complained that Becerra has no direct experience as a medical professional, even though they voted to confirm Alex Azar, a pharmaceutical executive who “raised drug prices and tried to undermine our nation’s health law,” as the previous HHS chief.

Republicans also claimed Becerra was too liberal and radical for the job and would seek to strip away private health insurance for millions.

“Becerra has made a career out of promoting far-left priorities like free healthcare for illegal immigrants, open borders & no restrictions on abortion,” Senator Steve Daines tweeted.

After Becerra’s confirmation, the Senate took up the nomination of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to be secretary of labor.

If confirmed, Schumer said, Walsh would be the final cabinet secretary joining Biden’s team.

 

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