HHS Secretary Becerra on Hot Seat as Biden’s COVID Approval Sinks

HHS Secretary Becerra on Hot Seat as Biden's COVID Approval Sinks xavier becerra speaks to the media during a news conference HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

By Eric Mack | Monday, 31 January 2022 03:47 PM

The White House's approval ratings on the COVID-19 pandemic response are steadily sinking and now Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is on the hot seat.

Becerra "is taking too passive a role in what may be the most defining challenge to the administration," a senior administration official told The Washington Post.

Another pointed to the former California attorney general and congressman as have little background in healthcare.

"He sees too many things like a former attorney general and career congressman — and not like the top health official during a pandemic," another source told the Post.

Prominent COVID analyst Eric Topol of Scripps Research Translational Institute says Becerra has been "like a ghost."

"He hasn't shown up," Topol told the Post after writing a Science magazine editorial, claiming Becerra had "skirked" his duties. "An HHS secretary has so much authority and power to help. And we have no evidence that any of it is being exerted."

"Step up or step aside," Topol added.

Becerra's defenders say he has not be given a clear role and generally allows the White House to take the lead on COVID.

"It's very clear to me that the White House is not looking for Becerra to be involved," an outside adviser told the Post. "What you can't do is say, 'We're going to run it out of the White House,' but not be involved with the agencies. Or if there is a role for Becerra, they should articulate it to him."

New York University's Celine Gounder said Becerra needs to speak up and fix the faults in communication, telling the Post it was not clear "how much of [Becerra's] role or non-role is driven by him versus the White House."

"Certainly, whether it's him or the White House itself, there does need to be better coordination," Gounder added. "That isn't to say there should be suppression of certain ideas but rather coordination of different agencies. He is certainly one person who could be doing that."

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz only offered praise to the Post when asked about a potential move.

"Since day 1, the administration has managed a strong, coordinated COVID-19 response thanks to Secretary Becerra and HHS officials at every level of government," Munoz wrote in a statement.

Becerra's assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, Down O'Connell, also defended the department's work under Becerra.

"He's been just a great thought partner," O'Connell told the post.

"I keep two lines of communication open at all times," she added, referring to informing Becerra "first" and then the White House. "That's always my goal: never to surprise anybody."

The White House rejected the reports of tension putting Becerra's job in jeopardy as "anonymous gossip."

"HHS is one of the most critical agencies in this fight and we have built a coordinated operation that is working together day and night, every single day of the week," Munoz's statement added, according to the Post.

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