Becerra Confirmation Delayed By Split Committee Vote As Conservatives Ramp Up Pressure On Biden Nominee

(Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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The nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be President Joe Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services hit a minor snag Wednesday when the Senate Finance Committee voted along party lines in a 14-14 stalemate on whether to advance his nomination to the full Senate.

Becerra was the first Biden nominee not to earn the support of a single Republican in his respective committee vote. Now, his nomination will have to be discharged from committee by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, at which point his nomination will be brought to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.

Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, defended Becerra’s nomination against Republican concerns about his qualifications. “If there is an effort to paint the attorney general as some kind of inexperienced radical it’s just not backed up by what the committee saw last week,” he said, according to Fox News.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Becerra’s nomination “puzzling” given his lack of medical experience in the middle of a global pandemic. A number of Republicans in the Senate have called Becerra unqualified, pointing out that he’s a lawyer by trade who has no formal government experience specific to the health care field. (RELATED: ‘A Partisan Culture Warrior’: Senate Republicans Rip Becerra Nomination)

Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who voted against Becerra on the Finance Committee, said in a statement that Becerra isn’t right for the job: “This isn’t complicated: In the middle of a deadly global pandemic, Americans want their Department of Health and Human Services to be focused on health and human services — not culture wars.”

Republicans have also pressed Becerra on religious issues, citing his experience as California attorney general. In that role, Becerra took part in a number of high-profile lawsuits seeking to advance abortion rights, target religious institutions and strip conscience protections. (RELATED: Biden HHS Nominee Becerra: ‘I Have Never Sued Any Nuns’)

Conservative interest groups have increasingly focused on stopping Becerra’s confirmation, even more so after the nomination of Neera Tanden to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget was withdrawn. Heritage Action announced new ad campaigns in West Virginia and Arizona, homes of moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, calling for them to reject Becerra’s nomination.

CatholicVote called Becerra an “ideologue willing to trample our most cherished constitutional rights.” The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List said Becerra is a “hardened pro-abortion activist unfit to lead HHS.”

The fate of Becerra’s nomination likely rests in the hands of Sinema and Manchin. Moderate Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were critical of Becerra during committee hearings last week.