President-elect Joe Biden picked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services on Monday as one of his administration’s top officials to fight the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Biden named Jeff Zients, an economic adviser here known for his managerial skills, as a coronavirus “czar” to oversee the response that will soon include an unprecedented operation to distribute hundreds of millions of doses of a new vaccine, coordinating efforts across multiple federal agencies.
Biden in statement said “This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on Day One to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking,”adding that they would “oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines.”
More than 282,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, according to a Reuters tally.
Authorities in California, the most populous state in the country with about 40 million residents, on Monday compelled much of the state to close shop and stay at home the day after it reported a record 30,000-plus new cases.
Biden chose Becerra, 62, a Latino former congressman, as he faces more pressure to add diversity to his Cabinet appointments, including complaints from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about the number of Latinos.
Biden has announced top nominees for his national security and economic teams.
The Democrat has pressed ahead with the transition to the White House even as Republican President Donald Trump refuses to concede the Nov. 3 election and wages a foundering effort to overturn the results.
Dozens of Trump’s legal challenges have been rejected by the courts, the latest on Monday when a federal judge in Detroit tossed a bid to decertify Biden’s election victory in Michigan.
In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his office would recertify the state’s election results after a third count confirmed Biden’s win.
Electors from Georgia will be named on Tuesday and meet Dec. 14, the date set for the Electoral College to formalize the result.
Raffensperger said continued debunked claims about voting fraud is “hurting our state.” Two runoff elections for the U.S. Senate, scheduled for Jan. 5, will determine which party controls the chamber.
Meanwhile, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has led legal challenges in several states, was being treated in a Washington hospital after testing positive for the virus.
Biden’s choice of Becerra adds a politician to a health effort that would otherwise largely rely on government administrators and health experts.
During his time in Congress, Becerra played a role in passing the Affordable Care Act, Democratic President Barack Obama’s main domestic policy achievement. In his current role in California, he leads a coalition of 20 states defending the program better known as Obamacare against Republican attacks, including in a case before the Supreme Court last month.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the healthcare team selections as “critical in the fight to crush the coronavirus and defend every American’s right to quality, affordable healthcare.”
Fauci said he would be involved in all aspects of the response.
“Obviously, this is an enormous challenge that we’re all going to be facing throughout the country as we emerge into and from the winter months,” Fauci told CNN.
Biden also picked Vivek Murthy, a physician and former surgeon general, to return for a second term as surgeon general.
He chose Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, to lead a group to deal with addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino Americans.