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Lawmakers grill HHS nominee Xavier Becerra on Obamacare, abortion

Members of the Senate finance committee questioned Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services about his past stances on Medicare for All and abortion rights. Pool Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI
Members of the Senate finance committee questioned Xavier Becerra, President Joe Biden's pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services about his past stances on Medicare for All and abortion rights. Pool Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 24 (UPI) -- California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he would work with President Joe Biden to uphold the Affordable Care Act and follow the law on abortion rights as he faced questions from lawmakers Wednesday.

Testifying on the second day of his confirmation hearing as Biden's selection to head the Department of Health and Human Services, members of the Senate finance committee asked Becerra to answer for his support for Medicare for All as well as previous votes as a member of Congress and lawsuits he brought against the Trump administration on abortion rights.

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The panel's ranking member, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, expressed concerns about Becerra's past support for the government-run, single-payer Medicare for All, proposals brought forward by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Crapo asked Becerra to provide assurances that Americans with private health coverage "will not lose their coverage in the future" due to a similar approach.

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Becerra assured that he would work in line with Biden's goals to expand the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which was established when he served as vice president.

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"What I will tell you is I'm here at the pleasure of the president of the United States," Becerra said. "He's made it very clear where he is. He wants to build on the Affordable Care Act. That will be my mission, to achieve the goals that President Biden put forward, to build on the Affordable Care Act."

Facing opposition from Republican lawmakers who said his past stance on abortion rights made him unqualified to lead the HHS, Becerra said he would recuse himself from decisions concerning issues he has litigated as California's attorney general.

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"I have tried to make sure on this important issue for so many people -- where oftentimes, again, we have different views but deeply held views -- that I have tried to make sure that I have abided by the law," Becerra said in response to a question from Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. "Whether it's a particular restriction or whether it's the whole idea of abortion, whether we agree or not, we have to come to some conclusion and that's where the law gives us a place to go."

During the first day of his hearing on Tuesday, senators grilled Becerra on how he would go about leading school reopenings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Addressing questions about racial and ethnic disparities in the health care system, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Becerra said he would drive the agency to collect more data.

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"We also have to reach out to the communities that know the people that we're missing," he said. "We have to train a better workforce, a bigger workforce and we have to make sure they're competent in the cultural, linguistic differences that oftentimes we see."

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