‘Trusted and accomplished’: Biden unveils key health team nominations in charge of coronavirus response

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was announced as Mr Biden’s pick for the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Monday 07 December 2020 17:06 GMT
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President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled his nominations for top health officials in his incoming administration, a key announcement at a time when coronavirus cases, hospitalisations, and deaths are surging across the United States.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, 62, was announced as Mr Biden’s pick for the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In the role, Mr Becerra would be responsible for leading the country’s fight against Covid-19, including heading the important task of vaccine distribution to the American public in a timely and efficient manner.

Mr Becerra, like other Cabinet positions, will face a confirmation hearing in the US Senate. If confirmed, he would become the first Latino to head HHS – further showing Mr Biden’s push to show diversity within his administration.

The selection by Mr Biden was more of a shock compared to his other administrative picks, as he became the president-elect’s clear choice only within the last couple days, The New York Times reports.

As attorney general of California, a position Mr Becerra took over in 2017 from Kamala Harris following her US Senate seat win, he led the charge of legal efforts for health care reform. Mr Bacerra headed a campaign representing 20 states and the District of Columbia to protect the Affordable Care Act when it appeared before the US Supreme Court in November 2020.

Mr Bacerra also previously served as a congressman for the state of California for 20 years and was once seen as the potential House Speaker.

His latest task in the federal government would involve running the $1tn federal agency that employs more than 80,000 people – focusing on initiatives related to prescription drugs, vaccines, medical research, and health insurance coverage for Americans.

Other members of Mr Biden’s health team were also unveiled on Monday.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert during the coronavirus pandemic, will serve as Mr Biden’s chief medical adviser. He will also retain his position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a role he’s held under six presidential administrations, while focusing on the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Then Mr Biden’s pick for head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a role currently held by Dr Robert Redfield, is Rochelle Walensky, the current head infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

It was announced last week that Mr Biden asked former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who served under President Barack Obama’s administration, to return to that same position under the Biden administration.

Jeff Zients, who also served under the Obama administration as the director of the National Economic Council, was also announced as the White House’s coronavirus czar under Mr Biden. The position would run similarly to the role Ron Klain held under the Obama administration during the Ebola crisis.

“This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones,” Mr Biden said in a statement following the Monday announcement.

He added the team would be ready on “day one” to “expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America’s capacity if we do it together.”

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