The stated mission of the Department of Health and Human Services “is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans.” The HHS Secretary is thus charged with overseeing all government healthcare and social services, and protecting the health and rights of the American people. It’s a worthy goal, and an important job.
Unfortunately, the history of the nominee before us, Mr. Xavier Becerra, poses grave concerns for carrying out this very goal, and for overseeing an agency with such vast, far-reaching responsibilities.
First, Mr. Becerra has repeatedly been on the record for wanting to eliminate private health insurance for millions of Americans – even at a time when families need affordable and flexible care, and healthcare workers need jobs, more than ever.
What’s more concerning, however, is that while in public office, Mr. Becerra has repeatedly undermined Americans’ constitutional rights, and waged political warfare on those who disagree with his views.
Take his views on abortion. Instead of supporting laws that protect and sustain the life and health of American women and unborn babies, Mr. Becerra has supported laws that violently hurt them, endorsing legal abortion up until – and even during – the moment of birth.
As Attorney General of California, he brought 15 felony charges against a reporter for exposing Planned Parenthood's role in trafficking the body parts of aborted babies – a prosecution that even the Los Angeles Times described as “disturbing overreach.”
And he defended a California law which required pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for state-funded abortion clinics, a law that so egregiously violated free speech that the Supreme Court eventually ruled it unconstitutional.
Not only that, but he has consistently and flagrantly taken hostile actions against the free exercise of religion.
Perhaps the worst example is his legal persecution of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns who care for the elderly poor. Becerra waged a lengthy battle to force the Sisters – again, an order of nuns – to pay for abortion drugs and contraception in their health insurance plan, even though doing so violates their beliefs.
Even after the Supreme Court ruled for the Little Sisters in 2016 under a separate case, and after the Trump administration granted them full conscience protections in 2017, Mr. Becerra sued the Trump administration in an attempt to pierce those protections.
During the pandemic, Becerra was the legal architect of some of the country’s most strident, sweeping, and unconstitutional restrictions on church and worship services – some of which were struck down by the Supreme Court last month.
And he even tried to prevent COVID relief funds from going to religious and other private schools.
Mr. President, our Founders established the principle of religious liberty – the natural right of all human beings to freely hold and live out their religious beliefs – because they understood that man is not free unless his conscience is free.
They thought that this principle was so important, so fundamental, that it was the first freedom articulated in the first amendment to the Constitution.
In doing so, they sought to defend and preserve the space of our deepest convictions, a space upon which the state cannot and should not encroach.
In practice, that has meant that the government’s job is not to tell people what to believe or how to discharge their religious duties, but to protect the space for all people of all faiths – and of no faith at all – to seek truth and to order their lives accordingly.
And it is perhaps the most defining feature that has made America the great, exceptional place that it is.
The American people deserve a leader at HHS who will uphold and strengthen this monumental tradition. They deserve a leader who protects their fundamental rights, not tramples them.
Unfortunately, the record of this nominee demonstrates serious threats to protecting the rights and health of the American people. They deserve better, and in good conscience I cannot support the nomination of Mr. Becerra.
I yield to my colleague.