Andrea Palm, the former secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, discusses the coronavirus shortly after Gov. Tony Evers declares a public emergency on March 12, 2020. 
Palm has been picked by President Joe Biden to be the deputy secretary of his Health and Human Services administration. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Andrea Palm, the former secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, discusses the coronavirus shortly after Gov. Tony Evers declares a public emergency on March 12, 2020. Palm has been picked by President Joe Biden to be the deputy secretary of his Health and Human Services administration. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Milwaukee Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa urges Congress to approve Becerra to be Health and Human Services secretary.

Let’s be really clear about where we find ourselves today. Amidst the worst public health crisis in American history, despite the approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, not enough shots are getting into arms here in Wisconsin. Given how badly the Trump administration failed in their response to the pandemic throughout 2020 this reality may not be particularly surprising but that does not make it any less infuriating.

The Trump Administration had almost a full year to develop and implement an effective vaccine distribution plan that states could use to speed response to the pandemic. Instead, Wisconsin communities of every stripe remain vulnerable to the virus. 

We recently surpassed more than 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19, including more than 5,000 Wisconsinites. Enough is enough. As we turn the page to the Biden administration, the mess left to clean up is extraordinary and there is no time to wait.

There has quite literally never been a more urgent need for strong, experienced leadership at the helm of the US Department of Health and Human Services. And President Joe Biden’s nominees to lead the agency, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as Secretary and our own Andrea Palm as Deputy Secretary, are exactly the right people for the job at this historic moment.

Becerra’s nomination demonstrates the seriousness with which President Biden has been working to develop a comprehensive plan to get the virus under control, so that we can rebuild our economy quickly. As a former member of Congress who led the fight to expand health care and who has been fiercely defending in court every American’s ability to access that care, Becerra is uniquely qualified to serve as Health and Human Services Secretary. 

While serving in Congress, Becerra was an original co-sponsor of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as a staunch defender of Medicare and Medicaid. As Attorney General of California, he has led the fight on behalf of more than 20 states to prevent President Trump and Republicans from sabotaging the ACA. 

I have no doubt that Becerra will immediately begin working as HHS secretary to undo the damage done by the Trump administration and “hit the reset” experts are calling for to revitalize the vaccine rollout. Until then, millions will remain unprotected against the virus, and unable to safely return to work. 

Wisconsinites are suffering, and millions across the country are struggling to make ends meet. Nearly 20 million Americans filed for jobless benefits in mid-December and job growth has slowed. Instead of providing support to those in need, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans spent months blocking meaningful relief for the American people. Unfortunately, we cannot effectively rebuild the economy and get people back to work until the virus is under control, and we need leaders at our federal health department  who will confront this crisis head-on. Becerra and Palm are ready to take that job on, and should be swiftly confirmed by the Senate. 

We have waited long enough for real leadership, and we cannot wait any longer. The pandemic demands a strong and knowledgeable HHS secretary who can marshal the people and resources to not only contain the spread of the virus, but ensure a smooth and equitable vaccination distribution program that doesn’t leave communities behind.

Xavier Becerra is the right person at the right time and he deserves the support of both Democrats and Republicans in the US Senate. To delay his confirmation is to prolong this struggle and the suffering of far too many Americans.