Biden chose Becerra, 62, a Latino former congressman, as he faces more pressure to add diversity to his cabinet appointments. Becerra will lead the health agency as officials struggle to contain a resurgence of the novel coronavirus, including record infections and a daily death toll that has exceeded 2,000 in recent days.
“This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on Day One to mobilise every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking,” Biden said in a statement, adding that they would “oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines”.
More than 282,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, according to a Reuters tally. Authorities in California, the most populous state in the country with about 40 million residents, on Monday compelled much of the state to close shop and stay at home the day after it reported a record 30,000-plus new cases.
Biden’s choice of Becerra adds a political operator to a health effort that would otherwise largely rely on government administrators and health experts. During his time in Congress, Becerra played a role in passing the Affordable Care Act, Democratic President Barack Obama’s main domestic policy achievement.
Biden also chose Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to run the US Centers for Disease Control. Biden picked Vivek Murthy, a physician and former surgeon general, to return for a second term as surgeon general. He is trusted national voice on health issues and a long-time adviser to Biden.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whom Biden has tapped as his chief medical adviser on the coronavirus, said he would be involved in all aspects of the response.
Biden also named Jeff Zients, an economic adviser, as a coronavirus “czar” to oversee a Covid-19 response that will soon include an unprecedented operation to distribute vaccines. He chose Marcella Nunez-Smith, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, to lead a group to deal with addressing the disproportionate virus impact on Black and Latino Americans.