At some point, Republicans might wonder whether they should have focused more on Xavier Becerra than Neera Tanden. An OMB director doesn’t have any regulatory authority, but the Secretary of Health and Human Services has enormous regulatory authority. Thanks to two centrists who eventually torpedoed Tanden, Becerra will get a narrow walk into Joe Biden’s Cabinet after all:
INBOX: Sen. Collins said in a statement that she will support Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services. "Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS Secretary," she said in statement.
— Jack Turman III (@jackturmanIII) March 11, 2021
This followed closely on the heels of Joe Manchin’s statement of support:
A spokesman for West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin tells National Review that Manchin will vote to confirm Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In a 50–50 Senate, Manchin’s support all but assures the confirmation of the controversial nominee who has been criticized for his lack of relevant experience and his radical record as California’s attorney general.
Not only does that guarantee Becerra’s confirmation, it probably won’t even require Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Unless another Senate Democrat votes against Becerra, he’s at 51 already — and who would that be other than Manchin? Kyrsten Sinema has played her confirmation cards close to the vest, but Sinema is a libertarianish-progressive politician pushed more toward the center by her state. Manchin’s the one with the red-state problem, and he’s giving Becerra a pass.
Manchin’s decision is understandable; he’s gotten crosswise enough with Chuck Schumer and Biden over Tanden, the COVID-19 relief/stimulus package, and potentially on infrastructure as well. It was time for Manchin to step up for the team. But why did Collins flip to support Becerra? She might have wanted to make a point about her willingness to compromise when needed, especially after Schumer’s bizarre attack on her vote in favor of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill. Presumably she got something in exchange for this vote from Biden and the White House, although her bargaining power might have been undercut by Manchin, but at least she can use this vote to push back on attacks when Collins sticks with the GOP on policy. (Assuming that happens, of course, but she does that more often than not.)
With this being a fait accompl, one has to wonder how many other Republicans might cross the aisle for a little bipartisan cred. Lisa Murkowski, maybe? It’s tough to see how Rob Portman and Pat Toomey go off into conservative think-tank retirement with a Becerra endorsement on their CVs. They may, however, argue that the Senate GOP should have kept their powder dry on Tanden and made Becerra their only target. And they may be right.
Update: Even if Becerra really did say this to Manchin, I’m not buying it, and neither is Alexandra DeSanctis:
In a statement released this morning, Manchin said he will vote for Becerra because the nominee “committed to me that he will uphold the law in regards to the Hyde Amendment.”
Taking Becerra at his word on this point requires a great deal of credulity. While Becerra tried to dodge the subject during his hearings, he spearheaded a lawsuit with the aim of forcing religious employers — including a charitable order of Catholic nuns — to subsidize contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
He also led efforts to sue the Trump administration for removing a portion of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, as well as to force the Food and Drug Administration to remove its safety requirements for chemical-abortion drugs.
Biden has already issued guidance requesting that his HHS consider terminating a Trump-administration policy that forbids abortion providers from receiving federal funding through the Title X family planning program. Given Becerra’s history of using state power to compel religious believers to advertise for abortion, there is no reason to think he’ll resist Biden’s instruction.
It sounds as though Manchin needed a pretext, and Becerra offered one up. Expect Becerra to “grow in office.”