"That was a complete nonsense answer": Sasse grills Becerra on lawsuit to force nuns to cover contraception

A sequel to Ed’s post earlier in which Becerra continues to insist at length that he never sued any nuns to force them to provide contraception coverage. He simply sued the feds to make sure they couldn’t protect nuns from having to provide contraception coverage.

See the moral distinction? Neither do I. And neither does Sasse.

Neera Tanden’s gotten most of the attention this week among Biden’s nominees but that should end, as Becerra’s a more radical and sinister figure who used his power as California AG to target various social conservative causes. It’d be one thing if he were an ace health-care bureaucrat well-qualified to manage the pandemic; in that case we’d have a debate about whether he might do more good via his managerial skills than harm via his ideology. But he’s not well qualified. He’s a newbie being asked to take the helm of HHS in the middle of a health-care crisis unlike any we’ve seen in a century. There’s no case for him under those circumstances, argues Yuval Levin:

[H]e’s an intelligent and able person by all accounts. But he is also a radical progressive social activist with essentially no experience in health care, public health, or human services and with very little experience with the department he has been nominated to run except for suing it to weaken religious-liberty protections extended over the past four years. On key issues relevant to his new job, he has spent these years as an egregious bully.

Even in normal times, when maybe there could be some kind of excuse for treating such an important job as a sop to the radical activist wing of the president’s party, Becerra would be an especially inflammatory choice. And these are not normal times. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, and the secretary of HHS should be more experienced with the department and its work and with the issues involved, and should not be a figure who will enflame the kinds of fears that will undermine the trust of large swaths of the country in the government’s actions, guidance, and priorities.

Ramesh Ponnuru made the same point. There’s nothing unusual about a Democratic president choosing someone who happens to be an ardent social liberal for a cabinet position. “What’s novel,” Ponnuru writes, “is choosing someone whose principal recommendation for the job is his culture-war zealotry. It’s as though President Donald Trump had chosen Rick Santorum to run HHS — except that Santorum has actually done a lot of work on health policy over the course of his career.” And that’s particularly weird in Biden’s case given Sleepy Joe’s rhetoric about national unity and prioritizing an expeditious technocratic end to the pandemic ASAP above all things. If we’re all about ending COVID, why choose an unqualified lefty hack like Becerra instead of one of the scores of liberal wonks out there who are engaged intimately with health-care policy generally and infectious diseases specifically?

That’s one reason why Sasse put him through the wringer, to expose Becerra as an ideologue. He’s a divisive choice for what should be the least divisive position in the cabinet right now, save perhaps for attorney general. Sasse’s other strategy here, I think, was to try to galvanize social conservative opposition to Becerra on the right, knowing that an upswell of outrage about his confirmation among Republicans will make things sweaty for West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Unfortunately, though, Manchin flipping to no in this case might not be enough to sink the nominee, as appears will be the case with Tanden. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are pro-choice, remember. And even Mitt Romney sounds not as anti-Becerra as he should be, frankly:

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), considered a swing vote for Biden nominees, told Becerra on Tuesday during a Senate Health Committee hearing: “I think we can reach common ground on many issues” except for abortion.

Romney told reporters he is “still evaluating” Becerra but the nominations of Haaland and Tanden “present some real questions and challenges.”

If Mitt feels he has to make some sort of choice between Tanden and Becerra, take Tanden.

Read NRO’s editorial from December, after Becerra was nominated, for a thorough social-con argument against him. And watch to the end here to see how slippery he is when Sasse confronts him about another of his sins, coming after pro-life journalists for videos they shot surreptitiously at Planned Parenthood. Becerra didn’t pursue animal-rights activists as AG for a similar offense, claiming that that’s because he wasn’t AG when those videos were shot. But, as John McCormack notes, he wasn’t AG when the Planned Parenthood videos were shot either. So why the double standard?