President-elect Joe Biden officially unveiled his health team early Monday, naming California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) as secretary of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Vivek Murthy was selected to return to his role as surgeon general and Dr. Rochelle Walensky was picked as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden also announced that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, will remain as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The top health officials will be responsible for guiding the country through the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected tens of millions of people across the globe, killed over 280,000 Americans and ravaged the economy. Biden similarly announced members of his intended national security and economic teams in recent weeks. Becerra and Murthy will each need to be confirmed by the Senate.
“This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones,” Biden said in a statement.
“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, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America’s capacity if we do it together,” Biden added.
Becerra served 12 terms in the House representing Los Angeles. Since being elected California attorney general in 2016, he has been among the most aggressive state attorneys general in suing the Trump administration over immigration measures and health care and environmental rollbacks.
Becerra is the second Latino named to a high-profile Cabinet position by Biden. He will be tasked with leading a sprawling agency that is responsible for managing the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 280,000 people in the U.S. HHS will also be responsible for overseeing the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine in the coming months.
Murthy, who was surgeon general from 2014 to 2017, had expected to play a key role in the Biden administration. He has advised Biden for months on the coronavirus pandemic, which was a central focus of Biden’s successful presidential campaign.
Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently completed a study in partnership with Yale University looking at the efficacy rates of the coronavirus vaccines on a general population. She will be a leading player in the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine, which is expected to begin in the coming weeks and extend well into next year. The vaccine is not expected to be available to the general U.S. population until spring.
Biden said last week that he planned to offer Fauci the role of chief medical adviser on his coronavirus team. Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, said on NBC’s “Today” show that he accepted the offer “right on the spot.”
Fauci is one of the most prominent members of President Trump’s coronavirus task force and polls show he is among the most trusted public officials when it comes to the coronavirus. But Fauci’s willingness to contradict Trump’s own statements about the pandemic have made him a target for criticism from the president’s supporters.
Fauci has offered blunt warnings about the worsening pandemic as Trump has repeatedly minimized the threat posed by COVID-19. Fauci also criticized Trump’s large campaign rallies leading up to the election and urged Americans not to gather in large groups.
Trump suggested at one of his last campaign rallies last month that he may attempt to fire Fauci following the election, though doing so would be difficult given protections afforded to career officials like him in the law.