President Joe Biden's top health care nominee dodged questions about taxpayer funding for abortion during his Tuesday Senate confirmation hearing
Senate Republicans centered much of Department of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra's hearing on his past support for abortion. The California attorney general declined to answer Sen. Mike Braun (R., Ind.) when he asked if HHS would commit to not using taxpayer money to fund abortion providers.
"While we probably will not agree on all the issues, I can say to you that we will definitely follow the law when it comes to the use of federal resources," Becerra said. "There I can make that commitment, that we will follow the law."
Taxpayer dollars were not the only cause for concern among GOP senators. Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) followed up by pushing Becerra on his opposition to a ban on partial birth abortions.
"I understand that people have different deeply held beliefs on this issue, and I respect that," Becerra responded. "I will tell you that when I come to these issues, I understand that we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground on these issues."
Romney dismissed Becerra's answer as an equivocation and pressed the Democrat further on abortion. The Utah senator criticized the California attorney general for failing to denounce partial birth abortions, although Romney did say he believed he could reach common ground with Becerra on other issues.
"I think we can reach common ground on many issues, but on partial birth abortion, it sounds like we're not going to reach common ground there," Romney said.
The confirmation hearing also saw Becerra questioned on how he would combat the COVID-19 pandemic if he is put in charge of the department primarily responsible for overseeing the federal response. Senate Democrats, led by committee chair Patty Murray (Wash.), called for Becerra's immediate confirmation. Murray said there is "no time to waste" in confirming Becerra.
Senate Republicans pressed Becerra on his support for expanded abortion access and Medicare for All. Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) said he was not sold on Becerra because of Becerra's opposition to private insurance plans and criticized him for favoring government interference in health care. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) asked questions about the HHS's COVID-19 response but did not reveal which way they will vote on the nomination.
On Monday, Senate Republicans, none of whom were on the Senate panel, authored a letter to the Biden administration expressing concerns over Becerra's experience, support for Medicare for All, and support for decriminalizing illegal border crossings. They requested that Biden withdraw the nomination.
Becerra's nomination has been called into question as activist groups pressure Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) to vote against Becerra. Manchin said he is undecided on Becerra's nomination after signaling his opposition to Neera Tanden, Biden's pick to lead the budget office. If Manchin defects and Republicans vote unanimously against Becerra, his nomination will fail.
Becerra appeared in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Tuesday and will appear before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday. He will likely face a floor vote in the Senate at the beginning of March.