Two nominees in the Biden cabinet responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic and national security challenges get key Senate approvals.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was confirmed Thursday by the US Senate as Secretary of Health and Human Services, paving the way for him to take over a key agency battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Becerra faced opposition from Republicans and secured confirmation to join President Joe Biden’s cabinet on an online 50-49 vote.
The Senate unanimously confirmed veteran diplomat William Burns as director of the CIA on Thursday, giving him control of the country’s premier spy agency as the US government grapples with threats from China, the United States. Russia and Iran.
A confirmation vote for Biden’s Labor Secretary Joseph Walsh is scheduled for Monday.
Former Democratic member of the House of Representatives for 26 years, Becerra will oversee an extension of the landmark US healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”
Republicans cited his lack of health experience and his support for expanding the role of government in providing health care and liberalizing immigration policies.
Earlier this month, Becerra’s confirmation outlook became uncertain after her nomination was bottled in a Senate committee that stuck in a 14-14 tie on whether to send Biden’s choice to the full Senate for confirmation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer maneuvered to withdraw the committee’s nomination, holding Thursday’s final vote.
“As America battles the COVID pandemic, its confirmation is long overdue,” Democratic Senator Edward Markey said during the debate. Becerra “is committed to reproductive freedom,” a burning issue for senators who oppose abortion.
Senior Senate Republican Mitch McConnell on Wednesday urged the Senate to dismiss Becerra, 63.
“The distinguishing feature of this candidate’s resume is not his or her expertise in health, medicine or administration,” said McConnell.
“What stands out is Mr. Becerra’s engagement in partisan warfare and his far-left ideology,” McConnell said.
Becerra will supervise the more than 80,000 employees of the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States and abroad.
The agency is responsible for programs ranging from Obamacare, disease control and health research to massive Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for older Americans, the poor, and the disabled.
Burns’ approval to lead the CIA came by voice vote after Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, lifted a hold he placed on the nomination.
Cruz, from the oil and gas producing state of Texas, had asked the Biden administration to comply with “its legal obligation to report and sanction ships and companies” building the natural gas Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Western Europe.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a declaration condemning the pipeline as a bad deal “intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security” and pledged additional US sanctions.
Burns is a former ambassador to Russia and Jordan who served in the State Department for more than 30 years under the Democratic and Republican presidents.
He promised during his confirmation hearing last month that he would provide “unvarnished” information to the White House.
At the hearing, he described China as posing the “greatest geopolitical test” on the United States and said that Russia, although a waning power in some ways, remains a disruptive and powerful threat.