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December 7, 2020

Biden's picks to lead HHS, CDC, and more

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    President-elect Joe Biden will nominate California Attorney General (AG) Xavier Becerra (D) to serve as HHS secretary and Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to serve as CDC director in his administration, according to several people familiar with Biden's decision.

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    According to the New York Times, Biden is planning to formally announce the selections, along with other picks for health care roles in his administration, on Tuesday.

    Biden to nominate Becerra as HHS secretary

    According to Politico, a source familiar with Biden's decision said the president-elect on Friday asked Becerra to serve as his administration's HHS secretary.

    Becerra is an "experienced politician" who has received national attention in recent years for waging a variety of state legal challenges against the Trump administration, including leading Democratic state AGs' defense against a lawsuit backed by the Trump administration that seeks to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Politico reports.

    Before becoming California's AG in 2017, Becerra represented California in the U.S. House for 24 years. While there, he was a member of the House Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on health and he voted to enact the ACA.

    Becerra has never held a top health policy position, however, and he does not have experience leading a large, bureaucratic agency, Politico reports. But according to Axios' "Vitals," Becerra's legal background could help the department to implement "a lawsuit-proof regulatory agenda."

    If confirmed for the post, Becerra would be the first Latino to lead HHS, "Vitals" reports.

    Biden to nominate Walensky as CDC director

    Biden also plans to nominate Walensky to serve as the nation's CDC director, according to people familiar with Biden's decision. In addition to serving as the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, Walensky is a professor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on HIV and AIDS.

    According to Politico, CDC is expected to have a larger and more public role under Biden's administration when compared with the agency's role under the Trump administration. For instance, the agency will serve in a critical position overseeing the distribution of any authorized vaccines against the novel coronavirus and implementing one of the most significant vaccination campaigns in America's history, Politico reports.

    Fauci to continue serving as NIAID director, take on new role as Biden's chief medical advisor

    Separately, Biden during an interview with CNN on Thursday said he asked Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to not only continue serving in that role once Biden takes office in January, but also to serve as his chief medical adviser and to join his Covid-19 response team.

    On Friday, Fauci during an interview on NBC's "Today" show said he accepted Biden's offer "right on the spot."

    Biden to nominate Vivek Murthy to again serve as US surgeon general

    Biden also is planning to nominate Vivek Murthy, who served as the United States' surgeon general under former President Barack Obama, to again serve in the post, according to two people familiar with Biden's decision.

    According to Politico, sources say that Murthy's role under Biden's administration will include "significantly enhanced responsibilities" when compared with his role under the Obama administration.

    "It will be like an amplified, [surgeon general] on steroids plus," a source close to Biden reportedly told Politico. "There will be an acute phase focused on Covid, which could be the whole next year between accelerating testing and getting the vaccine out and everything else, but then he'll be tackling all the things that Covid has unveiled," the source added, such as issues including mental health, racial inequities in health care, and substance use disorders.

    In addition, sources familiar with Biden's decision say he plans to appoint Jeff Zients, a former Obama administration official who currently is serving as co-chair of Biden's transition team, as coordinator of Biden's White House Covid-19 task force, as well as Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor at Yale University and an expert on inequality in health care, in a senior position focused on addressing health care disparities (Pager et al., Politico, 12/6; Pager, Politico, 12/6; Goldstein/Min Kim, Washington Post, 12/6; Gay Stolbergand/Shear, New York Times, 12/6; Hunnicutt, Reuters, 12/6; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 12/7; Wise, NPR, 12/3; Hunnicutt, Reuters, 12/3; Acosta et al., CNN, 12/4; Gstalter, The Hill, 12/4; Miranda Ollstein/Pager, Politico, 12/3).

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