Xavier-Becerra-HHS In this Dec. 4, 2019, file photo, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, California. President-elect Joe Biden has picked Becerra to be his health secretary.
Image via AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

President-elect Joe Biden has nominated the Mexican American official as health department secretary, placing this defender of the Affordable Care Act in a leading role to oversee the new administration’s coronavirus response.

Xavier Becerra could become the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services if confirmed by the Senate. President-elect Joe Biden has recommended him for the position.

Becerra’s parents were immigrants. His mother, María Teresa, grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. His father was born in Sacramento, California, and raised in Jalisco, Mexico.

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Becerra was born in Sacramento on Jan. 26, 1958. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents and three sisters.

He often cites his parents as his inspiration, saying they instilled in him a strong work ethic and a desire for advancement. His father worked road construction jobs; his mother was a clerical employee. 

Becerra’s career in public service spans 42 years. Since Jan. 24, 2017, he has served as the 33rd California attorney general

The attorney’s legal experience makes him a good candidate to defend the Affordable Care Act, which is integral to the Biden administration’s coronavirus response. While in public service, Becerra has taken the Trump administration to court over both the Affordable Care Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

If confirmed by the Senate, Becerra will be in charge of a $1 trillion-plus agency with 80,000 employees and a portfolio that includes drugs and vaccines, leading-edge medical research, and health insurance programs covering more than 130 million Americans.

In 1980, Becerra became the first member of his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He got accepted into Stanford University after filling out a blank application a friend had thrown away. After completing a major in economics he remained at Stanford to study law, earning a Juris Doctorate.

While at Stanford, he met his wife, Dr. Carolina Reyes, whose parents were also immigrants. They are parents of three daughters, Clarisa, Olivia, and Natalia. 

Becerra began his legal career in 1984 working in a legal services office representing the mentally ill in California.

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Almost 10 years later he started his political career. In 1993 he began his 12 terms in Congress as a member of the US House of Representatives.

During his career in Washington, he became the first Latino in the history of the House to sit on the Ways and Means Committee and was elected twice by his colleagues to serve as vice-chairperson of the House Democratic Caucus.

He has focused a big part of his work on underprivileged communities, becoming an important voice in debates about America’s immigration and welfare systems. Becerra is also an advocate of tighter gun regulations, and has opposed English-only education in California.

As the state of California’s top lawyer, Becerra has led the coalition of Democratic states defending Obamacare from the Trump administration’s latest effort to overturn it, a legal case awaiting a Supreme Court decision next year.

A former senior House Democrat, Becerra was involved in steering the Obama health law through Congress in 2009 and 2010. At the time he would tell reporters that one of his primary motivations was having tens of thousands of uninsured people in his Southern California district have access to health services.

Becerra’s experience running the bureaucratic apparatus of the California Attorney General’s office, as well as his success working with Republicans, helped seal the pick for Biden, a source told the Associated Press. Becerra has worked with Louisiana’s Republican attorney general to increase the availability of the COVID-19 drug treatment Remdesivir in their states. He has also worked closely with other Republican attorneys general on legal challenges against opioid manufacturers.

Early in California’s coronavirus response, Becerra defended the broad shutdowns Gov. Gavin Newsom had put in place to curtail the pandemic, including limits on religious gatherings. Three churches in Southern California sued Newsom, Becerra, and other state officials because in-person church services had been stopped.

Biden’s offer was extended to Becerra on Friday. The president-elect has been under pressure from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to appoint Latinos to the cabinet.

Associated Press contributed to this story