Biden unveils health team that will lead pandemic response


Biden’s transition team announced California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Vivek Murthy as his nominee for US surgeon general, Dr. Rochelle Walensky as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith as the chair of his Covid-19 equity task force.

Dr. Anthony Fauci will serve as chief medical adviser to the President on Covid-19 and will also continue in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Biden transition co-chair and former Obama administration official Jeff Zients will serve as coordinator of the Covid-19 response and counselor to the President and Natalie Quillian, another Obama administration veteran, will serve as deputy coordinator of the Covid-19 response.

The team will lead the administration’s response as the US grapples with a pandemic that has killed more than 282,000 Americans as of Monday morning and shut down businesses and schools across the country.

“This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones,” Biden said in a statement.

He continued, “This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America’s capacity if we do it together.”

Fauci told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Monday that he had worked with all of the other members of Biden’s health team and praised them as “excellent choices.”

“Obviously this is an enormous challenge that we’re all going to be facing throughout the country, as we emerge into and from the winter months, so there’s going to be a lot of activity both from a fundamental science standpoint — vaccines, therapies, understanding the disease better — as well as the public health response,” Fauci said.

He said he didn’t believe his role on Biden’s health team would be “substantially different” than his current role as a leading member of President Donald Trump’s White House coronavirus task force.

“I’m not exactly sure what the precise structure that will be put up, but it certainly will be something similar in the sense of a daily monitoring and involvement of this extraordinary challenge that we’re going through,” Fauci said.

Perspectives wes moore

Becerra is the attorney general of California, the first Latino to serve in that role, and has been the chief defender of the Affordable Care Act in court. He has led a group of Democratic attorneys general arguing that the law remains valid as the Trump administration and a coalition of Republican state attorneys general fight to invalidate the landmark health reform law.

If confirmed by the United States Senate, Becerra would be the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. He served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the US House of Representatives and held several leadership posts, including the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. He was also the first Latino to serve as a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He also sat on the Ways & Means subcommittee on health, where he worked on major health programs, such as Medicare.

Murthy served as US surgeon general during the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017 and would reprise his role if confirmed by the Senate. As surgeon general under Obama, Murthy helped lead the national response to the Ebola and Zika viruses and the opioid crisis, among other health challenges.

Murthy, a doctor of internal medicine, has been a top health adviser to Biden since the campaign. He was part of Biden’s public health advisory committee as the pandemic first took hold in the US and has been serving as a co-chair of the President-elect’s Covid-19 advisory board during the transition.

Walensky, a physician, is the chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital and is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Her post as director of the CDC does not require Senate confirmation.

Walensky currently serves as the chair of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council and is a member of the US Department of Health and Human Services Panel on Antiretroviral Guidelines for Adults and Adolescents. 

Nunez-Smith is a co-chair of Biden’s transition team and serves as an associate professor of medicine, public health, and management and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Nunez-Smith is the founding director of Yale’s Equity Research and Innovation Center, which is focused on addressing inequities in health and health care. She created the Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, to improve health outcomes in an historically underserved region.

Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week that he had asked Fauci to stay on in his role and to be a chief medical adviser in Biden’s incoming administration. Fauci, who has a lengthy career serving under six presidents from both parties, is a leading member of President Donald Trump’s White House coronavirus task force. He has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Fauci’s role does not require Senate confirmation.

Zients was a top economic adviser under Obama and is a co-chair of Biden’s transition team. Zients is credited with reviving the Obamacare enrollment website, Healthcare.gov, which had been plagued with issues and crashed shortly after its launch in 2013. The website, an online marketplace for medical insurance, was a critical centerpiece to Obama’s landmark health care law. Zients was the fix-it man and provided advice to the US Department of Health and Human Services as it worked to resolve the problems. Zients’ role does not require Senate confirmation.

At the beginning of the Obama administration, in 2009, Zients was confirmed by the US Senate to serve as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and later served as acting director. He later served as the director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the President for economic policy under Obama.

Quillian is a former White House and Pentagon senior adviser, and most recently served as a deputy campaign manager for Biden’s presidential campaign. Quillian served all eight years in the Obama administration and helped coordinate the interagency response to the opioid epidemic. She has served in a number of national security positions at the National Security Council and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and as deputy assistant to the President and senior adviser to the White House chief of staff. Quillian’s role does not require Senate confirmation.

This story has been updated with additional information about Biden’s health team and with comments made by Fauci on CNN on Monday morning.

CNN’s Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.



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