A very bad nominee could be confirmed

While Democratic senator Joe Manchin and most moderate GOP senators are opposing the nomination of Neera Tanden to serve as Joe Biden’s OMB director because of insulting tweets she posted about various senators, Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse is alarmed that a far worse nominee is going to be confirmed to a far more consequential post.

“Ron Klain and Chuck Schumer know that Xavier Becerra is a wolf who can’t be dressed in sheep’s clothing, so they’re using Neera Tanden as a decoy,” Sasse tells National Review in an email. “While the beltway talks endlessly about which senators got mean tweets from a lefty activist, a wannabe tyrant with a nasty record of attacking the First Amendment is going to quietly become the leader of the federal government’s largest agency. Becerra has shown nothing but contempt for free speech and religious liberty — he’s a hell of a lot more dangerous than Tanden.”

At yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing, Sasse drilled down on Becerra’s evasive answers about his legal battle against the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

Becerra’s record as California attorney general warned that he would likely use the Department of Health and Human Services’ broad rule-making authority to aggressively wage a culture war. 

As California attorney general, Becerra has been an exceptionally ruthless aggressor in the culture wars. He has attempted to use the power of the state to crush a wide array of average Americans — from religious dissenters to pro-life pregnancy counselors and independent journalists.

In 2017, Becerra filed felony charges against the pro-life activists and citizen-journalists who had gone undercover to expose Planned Parenthood’s gruesome practice of selling the body parts of aborted babies to biotech companies. Becerra had not gone after animal-rights activists for similar investigative tactics. In response to Becerra’s actions, one writer at the left-wing magazine Mother Jones called the Planned Parenthood videos “a legitimate investigation, and no level of government should be in the business of chilling it.” Becerra was rebuked by the liberal editorial page of the Los Angeles Times for his “disturbing overreach.”

In 2018, Becerra and the State of California were smacked down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case NIFLA v. Becerra over a state law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortion.

In 2019, Becerra aggressively opposed the merger of two religiously affiliated hospital chains in California because the resulting consolidated chain could reduce access to both abortion and gender-reassignment surgeries.

In 2020, Becerra was rebuked for his zealous defense of a California law requiring abortion coverage in insurance plans offered by churches. The Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that California’s abortion mandate violated a federal law known as the Weldon amendment, which prohibits federal funding of states and localities that force health providers and insurers to participate in or cover abortion. Becerra refused to comply.

In 2021 — in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic — it is hard to think of a worse choice than Becerra to run the Department of Health and Human Services.

To fight the pandemic, the Biden administration needs a health and human services secretary who has the broad trust of the public, but it’s going to be impossible for Becerra to earn the trust of those who constitute nearly half the country and believe (with reason) that Becerra wants to crush them and drive them from the public square

On Wednesday, Sasse also questioned Becerra about his decision to file felony charges against anti-abortion activists — but not prosecute animal-rights activists — for filming undercover videos.

Becerra replied that he didn’t prosecute animal-rights activists because he was not yet attorney general when those videos were shot. His answer made no sense: Both the anti-abortion videos and animal-rights videos were filmed in 2015, two years before Becerra became attorney general.