After his second round of congressional questioning this week, Xavier Becerra appears on track to be confirmed as the next HHS secretary, even according to one of his detractors.
"If I was a betting man, I'd bet that you've got the votes to be approved," Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said Wednesday at the Senate Finance Committee hearing.
In both hearings he distanced himself from previous endorsements of "Medicare for All," in several rounds of questioning from Republicans seeking to tie him to the policy idea.
The former House lawmaker noted that President Joe Biden has no intention of pursuing such a policy and said he stands ready to build on the Affordable Care Act, including with a public option.
"I'm here at the pleasure of the president of the United States. 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."
Wednesday's hearing came a day after Becerra, California's attorney general, went before the Senate health committee. Republicans then said they were unsure he had the necessary experience to run the massive agency, but assured that they were keeping an open mind.
If he is indeed confirmed, his job will be enormous. That starts with the COVID-19 crisis and rollout of coronavirus vaccines. In kicking off the hearing, Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, "There may not be a higher-stakes job in the executive branch outside the president's."
The nominee told the health committee he would continue his work as AG to fight anticompetitive practices and providers who "unfairly jack up prices." He also referred to his lawsuit against Sutter Health, which eventually agreed to a $575 million settlement that dictated it change billing practices.
"We went up against the largest healthcare provider in Northern California because people just had an instinctive feeling that the prices they were paying were way too high," Becerra said. "So what we have to be able to do is go behind the curtain. You have to be able to see how they're operating, how they're cutting these deals."
At the finance panel, Becerra also voiced support for continuing to expand reimbursement of telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. "I don't think we're going back to the old days when it comes to telehealth," he said.
Becerra did face opposition both days for his support of abortion rights. His go-to lines when receiving those questions was to say he respected differing and deeply held beliefs and would always uphold the law.
The biggest fireworks Wednesday came from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who grilled Becerra about a California lawsuit involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order that wanted exemption from the ACA's contraception mandate.
Becerra disputed Sasse's framing of the case as a lawsuit against the nuns, accurately saying California sued the federal government, not the religious order itself.
Sasse shot back, refusing to accept the response.
The senator tripped up soon after when he demanded to know why the nominee didn't take certain actions as California AG in 2014 and 2015. Becerra was not AG at the time.