Republicans are sharpening their knives to go after Joe Biden’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, who is the current attorney general of California.
It isn’t just the fact that Becerra is a frothing radical on the subject of abortion, or that he kept California’s schools, churches, and small businesses closed far too long during the pandemic, or his prosecution of two pro-life activists who tried to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood that has Republicans eager for a brawl.
It’s that Becerra is a bully who is currently harassing the Little Sisters of the Poor, trying to get them to abandon their cherished moral principles in the name of Obamacare.
Becerra is currently suing the nuns, despite a Supreme Court decision that should have ended his quest to make an example of the sisters and to prove that government doesn’t give a hoot about any kind of “moral exemption” when it comes to the Obamacare contraception mandate.
Barack Obama thought he had settled the controversy over religious orders having to pay for contraception coverage. He gave the nuns a “workaround” that, he believed, gave the nuns a moral pass by having them sign an objection to the coverage. Meanwhile, they would still be forced to include birth control coverage in their employee policies.
Why Obama thought that this would satisfy anyone with a moral conscience is a mystery. In 2017, Donald Trump appeared to have solved the nuns’ dilemma by exempting them from the mandate to pay for the birth control coverage. The Trump administration also offered contraception coverage to the nuns through Title X.
But that wasn’t good enough for Becerra who promised the nuns several more years of litigation.
First, Becerra sued after the nuns had already been through the wringer and promised, a little like the groundhog seeing his shadow, several more years of litigation.
Second, the HHS exemption has nothing to do with California. Obamacare isn’t a California law, and HHS isn’t a California agency. There is no harm to California if the federal government decides it must provide an exemption to the nuns. Indeed, it is probably unprecedented for one sovereign jurisdiction to sue to prevent another sovereign jurisdiction from changing its own rules to protect religious liberty. In a word, this is crazy.
Third, what Becerra seeks is a crushing burden on the nuns. If they don’t sign onto an arrangement that they believe violates their faith, Becerra wants them, in keeping with the Obama mandate, to be subject to daily fines that would add up to tens of millions of dollars annually. And, remember, these aren’t “corporate polluters,” they aren’t insider traders, they aren’t tech giants; they are an order of nuns founded by a saint who begged in the streets of 18th-century France so she could carry out her charitable work.
Becerra’s prosecution of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for recording private conversations is also outrageous. The case should never have become a criminal case. Daleiden was sued in federal court and hit with a $2.3 million fine. That should have been enough punishment for any reasonable prosecutor, but Becerra is hardly reasonable. Daleiden’s trial is ongoing.
Republicans in the Senate may succeed in derailing Becerra’s nomination. Swing vote Senator Joe Manchin is seriously considering voting against Becerra when his nomination comes to the floor. Manchin is pro-life and may see Becerra as the rest of us do, a radical with an agenda that would target conservatives.
But Manchin is also a Democrat and Joe Biden is his president. Manchin has already announced his opposition to Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick for OMB, so the prospect of him opposing another Biden nominee is iffy.
But in this case, Manchin should make an exception. Becerra is clearly unfit to serve. The president wanted to name the first Latino HHS secretary, but couldn’t he have done better than Xavier Becerra?