What's happened: Xavier Becerra, the embattled Health and Human Services secretary, was implicated in a damning New York Times report on the Biden administration's failure to stop the widespread exploitation of immigrant children.
What they're saying: Becerra has been described as an "incompetent and out to lunch" health secretary—a role for which he lacks the "relevant qualifications." The Times report appears to confirm this view.
• "Again and again, veteran government staffers and outside contractors told the Health and Human Services Department, including in reports that reached Secretary Xavier Becerra, that children appeared to be at risk."
• "Under the law, the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for vetting sponsors to ensure they will provide for children’s well-being and protect them from trafficking or exploitation. But as shelters filled with children, the department began loosening some vetting restrictions and urging case managers to speed the process along."
• "At least five Health and Human Services staff members filed complaints and said they were pushed out after raising concerns about child safety."
• "We are pulling humanity out of 'Health and Human Services,'" a group of HHS employees wrote in a memo to their superiors earlier this year.
Warnings ignored: "I feel like short of protesting in the streets, I did everything I could to warn them," said Jallyn Saulog, the HHS official formerly in charge of the department's response to unaccompanied migrant children. "They just didn’t want to hear it."
HHS moved Saulog to a different position in 2021, several months after she filed a complaint with the agency's internal watchdog.
Why it matters: It's another scandal that raises serious questions about Becerra's capacity to serve as health secretary. He has also been criticized for "passive" and "low profile" leadership styles, as well his botched handling of COVID-19 and the monkeypox outbreak of 2022.
Affirmative inaction: Becerra almost certainly would have been fired by now if he wasn't Hispanic. The Washington Post reported in January 2022 that White House officials were "loath" to get rid of him because they feared "the ire of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other grass-roots groups that pressed Biden to appoint more Latinos to his Cabinet."
New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns revealed that some Democrats thought Becerra was a "baffling" choice for health secretary when Biden was assembling his cabinet. It was actually a "panicked" and "hasty" pick by an administration attempting to "calm" dissent from Hispanic lawmakers and assemble "the most diverse cabinet in history."
Throughout the "fraught" nominating process characterized by "hurt feelings and [racial] grievance," Martin and Burns report, Biden chief of staff Ron Klain grew "weary" of the Democratic coalition's insistence on "treating the cabinet as an identity-politics Rubik's Cube."
Some context: A former congressman and state attorney general, Becerra had at least some relevant experience before Biden nominated him for health secretary. In 2018, for example, Becerra sued the Little Sisters of the Poor in order to compel them to pay for employee contraceptive coverage despite their stated religious objections.