HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra Absent as Joe Biden Struggles with Coronavirus Response

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23: Xavier Becerra, nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), testifies at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Becerra was previously the Attorney General of California. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images)
Sarah Silbiger-Pool/Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra remains missing from President Joe Biden’s attempt to fight the coronavirus pandemic even as record cases and hospitalization rates dominate across the nation.

The Secretary has only been to the White House for events unrelated to the virus. In December, he spoke at an event on maternal health, attended Biden’s remarks for World AIDS Day, and a signing ceremony during the White House Tribal Nations summit.

On December 30, Becerra made a rare appearance in a video conference forum on the importance of vaccines and boosters with United States Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, but has been absent from the White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic. He is also absent from Biden’s coronavirus events at the White House.

The Biden effort in the coronavirus fight is led by White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients with Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky.

Becerra appears to serve as a cheerleader for Walensky, as she heads the CDC under the purview of his cabinet position.

The secretary appeared on CNN earlier this week to respond to critics of Walensky.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks on maternal health during the White House Maternal Health Day of Action in Washington, DC, on December 7, 2021. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty)

“I’m not where they fall,” Becerra said, praising Walensky as an “infectious disease expert” who “based her words on the science.”

“While we may have issues with some of the marketing that has been done,” he said. “I guarantee you. Dr. Walensky is someone we need at the CDC.”

Biden and his coronavirus team continue struggling to answer questions about coronavirus testing shortages experienced over the Christmas holiday, a shortage of monoclonal antibody treatments, and a sluggish release of the coronavirus antiviral pill approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.

On paper, Becerra is tacitly involved, sending out a statement reacting to the Supreme Court ruling on vaccine mandates, meeting with Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and announcements about health insurance and vaccine approvals.

But there is little evidence Becerra is involved with the ongoing battle against the pandemic.

Republicans appear disinterested in grilling Becerra about his role in the pandemic response, although, in September, Sen. Rand Paul berated the Secretary in a hearing for twice describing people who remained hesitant to get the coronavirus vaccines as “flat earthers.”

Becerra did not apologize for the remark, noting he and his cabinet relied on “facts” and “science.”

“I appreciate that everyone has their opinion,” he said.

 

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