Resolved: Neither party can vet worth a damn when it comes to candidates or nominees. It’s one thing for Joe Biden to reach back to the previous administration to build his Team of Retreads. It’s quite another to hand-pick two nominees for Cabinet positions with connections three administrations ago — who both participated in the sleaziest presidential pardon spree. So far, anyway.
The Washington Post calls shenanigans on the pair, and one of them was in trouble already:
Two of President-elect Joe Biden’s top Cabinet picks played key roles in a clemency scandal that shook Los Angeles and Minnesota two decades ago, when the early release of a convicted cocaine trafficker raised complaints of political favoritism and drew sharp condemnations from prosecutors.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whom Biden has announced he intends to nominate as health and human services secretary, and Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick for homeland security secretary, were among several prominent Los Angeles figures who reached out to the White House about the sentence of Carlos Vignali Jr., whose father was a wealthy entrepreneur and major Democratic donor in California.
Then-President Bill Clinton commuted Vignali’s sentence on his last day in office in 2001 — one of 176 last-minute acts of clemency he granted that were the subject of investigations for years. …
The Vignali commutation drew intense scrutiny because a group of well-connected California Democrats who were friendly with Vignali’s father, Horacio — including Becerra, then a U.S. congressman, and Mayorkas, then the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles — communicated with White House officials about the matter before Clinton acted. Vignali’s father also paid $200,000 to Hugh Rodham, the brother of then-first lady Hillary Clinton, to help secure Vignali’s release.
A 2002 investigation by the GOP-led House Committee on Government Reform found that the commutation was extended over objections from the Justice Department’s pardon office and concluded that it “sent a message that there is a double standard of justice between the rich and the poor.”
Well …yeah, that’s precisely what it did. The Vignali pardon got slightly less attention than Clinton’s pardon for Marc Rich, who at the time was on the run from prosecution over income-tax evasion charges. Rich’s ex-wife was a big-time Democratic donor who pressed the Clintons for the pardon. However, the Vignali pardon was arguably more corrupt. And now not just one but two of the people instrumental to Clinton’s pardon will be part of Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
I guess that’s one way to say that we’re returning to “business as usual,” eh?
It’s not as if either of these picks are indispensable either, especially Xavier Becerra at HHS. Even some allies of Democrats wonder why Biden’s picking an attorney with no health-care experience to run that bureaucracy. Kaiser Health News, a group supportive of ObamaCare, gently suggested yesterday that the post requires a little more “front-line health experience”:
Becerra built his career in the U.S. House of Representatives before becoming California’s attorney general, and some wonder whether his political and legal skills would be the right fit to steer HHS through a health catastrophe that’s killing thousands of Americans every day.
Although he would bring years of health politics and policy work to the role, none of it comes from front-line experience as an executive or administrator running public health programs, managing patient care or controlling the spread of disease.
Even before the WaPo’s hammer dropped this morning, Senate Republicans had geared up for a fight to prevent his confirmation. Bloomberg reported that his status as “the first Latino to head HHS” might not be qualification enough … without intentional irony, apparently:
Biden satisfied calls for him to name the first Latino to head HHS in keeping with his promise for the most diverse cabinet ever. Unions and Democrats applauded his choice of Becerra, who led challenges to many of President Donald Trump’s efforts to loosen environmental and other regulations and limit immigration and access to health care.
But that may not be enough direct experience to satisfy the GOP-led Senate, which must confirm his nomination.
”I’m not sure what his Health and Human Services credentials are,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas. “It’s not like Alex Azar who used to work for pharma and have a health-care background,” he said referring to the current HHS secretary.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas called Becerra a “disaster” who was unqualified to lead the agency, but focused his complaints on Becerra’s support for abortion rights.
The Los Angeles Times also reported on expanding opposition to Becerra’s confirmation:
“I have serious concerns about Xavier Becerra’s ability to lead Health and Human Services,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who also pointed to $1 million in political donations Becerra has received from “the big healthcare industry.” The figure was calculated by the OpenSecrets.org website, which counted $1.2 million in political donations over the course of Becerra’s career from individual healthcare professionals and political advocacy groups that represent them. …
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would judge Becerra’s nomination on its merits “but his record of extreme left-wing activism certainly doesn’t inspire confidence.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a physician, questioned whether Becerra has enough subject matter expertise for the job, which in the past has gone to governors or others with executive experience. “Nice person,” Cassidy said. “I just don’t know what expertise he has in healthcare.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the most moderate Senate Republican, who refused to weigh in directly on Becerra’s confirmation prospects but said she was “surprised that it wasn’t an individual who had a healthcare background.”
I wrote about Becerra’s main qualification being a brass-knuckled abortion-on-demand advocate and an opponent to religious liberty and conscience protections. My friend AJ Kaufman at Alpha News also noted that Becerra’s radical nature seemed pretty revealing about how Biden would approach those issues himself. That was going to make Becerra’s nomination untenable with most of the caucus anyway, but perhaps he might have gotten Collins and Lisa Murkowski’s votes. The Vignali connection should torpedo Becerra’s chances altogether, especially if Republicans win one or both Georgia runoff races.
As for Mayorkas, he seems even less indispensable than Becerra. There are plenty of qualified liberals for both Homeland Security and HHS. Why Biden felt he had to reach back to two Clinton-scandal figures is mystifying, and suggests some big problems in the transition with vetting. Again.
Update: Changed headline to note the source better.