White House Afraid To Replace HHS Secretary Because He's Hispanic

Xavier Becerra has been 'like a ghost' in dealing with pandemic, COVID analyst says

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Getty Images)
January 31, 2022

The White House wants to replace Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra over his poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic but is afraid of political and racial backlash, according to the Washington Post.

Senior Biden administration officials are blaming Becerra and other health officials for providing "confusing and sometimes conflicting messages," particularly on COVID-19 booster shots and quarantine guidelines. Becerra's "low profile," especially in light of official statements that have "blindsided the president and bewildered the public," is "confounding," the Post reported based on interviews with 28 officials and advisers.

Removing the health secretary, however, would jeopardize President Joe Biden's relationship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other Hispanic groups, the officials say.

Before he took office, Biden pledged in December 2020 to nominate a Cabinet that "looks like America," announcing 100 "diverse" appointments to "lead to better outcomes and more effective solutions to address the urgent crises facing our nation." During his campaign, Biden picked then-California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate after he promised a "woman of color" as his vice president. Becerra, the former attorney general of California, is one of four Latino members of the president's Cabinet.

Becerra faced an uphill battle during his confirmation hearings. Only one Republican senator, Susan Collins (Maine), supported his confirmation. Many opposed his record on religious liberty issues. During his time as attorney general, he aggressively litigated against an order of Catholic nuns who opposed the Affordable Care Act's birth control coverage mandate.

Officials said the president is unlikely to replace Becerra, especially considering the evenly divided Senate and Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer's announcement last week that he would retire at the end of his term in June, allowing Biden to pick a successor.

One COVID analyst the Post interviewed went as far as to say the health secretary has been "like a ghost" during the pandemic.

"He hasn't shown up," Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Post. "An HHS secretary has so much authority and power to help. And we have no evidence that any of it is being exerted." In a January editorial for Science magazine, Topol argued Becerra must "step up or step aside."