Biden retains confidence in HHS Secretary Becerra despite reports of tension: Psaki

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Where is Secretary Xavier Becerra?

Florida Rep. Kat Cammack slams HHS secretary for being ‘MIA’ on major American crises on ‘The Ingraham Angle.’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed reports that White House officials have grown frustrated with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, saying President Biden “remains confident” in his ability. 

“Well, you know how we feel about anonymous sources around here,” Psaki said Tuesday in response to a question about a Washington Post report outlining an alleged “uneasy relationship” between Becerra and White House officials regarding the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would just reiterate that the president remains confident in the role of Secretary Becerra,” she said. “He is somebody who is an important partner. He has been leading a range of efforts from the Department of Homeland Security, I mean, from the Department of Health and Human Services.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Psaki asserted that the White House is not focused on “palace intrigue” and just wants to vaccinate Americans, fight the omicron variant surge and expand testing.

Several Biden administration officials anonymously voiced concerns in recent days that Becerra, who was appointed to the top spot at HHS with no front-line health care experience, has taken “too passive a role in what may be the most defining challenge to the administration.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra answers questions at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss reopening schools during COVID-19 at Capitol Hill on Sept. 30, 2021 in Washington, D.C. 
(Greg Nash- Pool/Getty Images)

The officials claim that Becerra is not living up to the requirements of his job and cited an example in which HHS officials aired different opinions on booster shots and COVID-19 isolation that were deemed confusing. Additionally, The Washington Post report said that the tension between HHS and the White House has “complicated” the response to the pandemic. 

“He hasn’t shown up,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and a prominent COVID analyst, told The Washington Post, saying that Becerra has been “like a ghost” during the pandemic. 

“An HHS secretary has so much authority and power to help,” Topol explained. “And we have no evidence that any of it is being exerted.”

Former Republican congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz slammed Becerra in December for not attending a single coronavirus briefing and taking eight months to make his first trip to National Institutes of Health.

“He seems to be absent from the biggest public health crises of our time, leading some to ask if he, like Secretary Pete Buttigieg, went on paternity leave, too?” Chaffetz wrote. “As Americans bemoan the inaccessibility of testing for COVID, the restrictions on monoclonal antibody treatments, the risk of infection from untested border crossers, and the surge in deadly fentanyl crossing our now open borders, Becerra has offered no solutions.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during a World AIDS Day commemoration in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C on Dec. 1, 2021. 
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP)

Becerra has also reportedly clashed with the Biden White House over HHS’s handling of illegal immigrant children at the southern border.

Biden “lashed out” at Becerra in a March 30 Oval Office meeting when Becerra allegedly failed to have answers for questions about the agency’s ability to take care of migrant kids, according to a New York Times report

Politico reported that the White House “bristled” at Becerra’s approach as it pushed HHS to speed up the intake of the tens of thousands of migrant children at the border. Separately, sources told the outlet that he is seen as indecisive and too slow to seize the situation.

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News.

Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report

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