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"No experience": Biden's pick for health secretary heads to the hot seat

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is more likely than not to be confirmed as the next secretary of Health and Human Services, especially now that another of President Biden's nominees is in hot water.

Yes, but: Becerra's confirmation hearings this week are likely to become political brawls over abortion, Medicare for All, California's pandemic response and Becerra's qualifications for the job.


Driving the news: Becerra will face the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday and the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

  • Crossing the finish line may have gotten easier for Becerra on Friday, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced his opposition to Neera Tanden, Biden's choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

What they're saying: "In my conversations with Senate Democrats, what I'm hearing is a huge sense of relief that in Attorney General Becerra, we’ll have a qualified, experienced leader," Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told Axios' Hans Nichols.

The other side: "He's literally the least qualified nominee in the history of the agency," said a senior GOP aide working on the nomination, a preview of what we're likely to hear this week.

  • "No experience in health, no experience in managing something of this size, no expertise in pandemic issues," the aide added.

What we're watching: One area of strong disagreement between Becerra and more moderate Senate Democrats is Medicare for All, which the nominee has supported in the past.

  • But the HHS secretary can't ram through a single-payer health care system on his own.
  • However, the secretary can make significant policy changes via waivers, as NYT wrote last year, and will be central to shaping Biden's regulatory health care agenda.

Report: U.S. urges UN-led Afghan peace talks and warns of Taliban "territorial gain" threat

Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani steps including a UN-facilitated summit to revive stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Afghanistan's TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Blinken expresses concern in the letter, also obtained by Western news outlets, of a potential "spring offensive by the Taliban" and that the "security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid.

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Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle delivered a devastating indictment of the U.K. royal family in their conservation with Oprah Winfey: Both said unnamed relatives had expressed concern about what the skin tone of their baby would be. And they accused "the firm" of character assassination and "perpetuating falsehoods."

Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.

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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has taken the coronavirus vaccine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tells "Axios on HBO" that he recently received his first of two doses of the company's coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: Bourla told CNBC in December that company polling found that one of the most effective ways to increase confidence in the vaccine was to have the CEO take it.

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Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse: SEC lawsuit is "bad for crypto" in the U.S.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse tells "Axios on HBO" that if his company loses a lawsuit brought by U.S. regulators, it would put the country at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to cryptocurrencies.

Between the lines: The SEC in December sued Ripple, and Garlinghouse personally, for allegedly selling over $1.3 billion in unregistered securities. Ripple's response is that its cryptocurrency, called XRP, didn't require registration because it's an asset rather than a security.

Pfizer CEO: "It will be terrible" if COVID vaccine prices limit access

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told "Axios on HBO" that it "will be terrible for society" if the price of coronavirus vaccines ever prohibits some people from taking them.

Why it matters: Widespread uptake of the vaccine — which might require annual booster shots — will reduce the risk of the virus continuing to spread and mutate, but it's unclear who will pay for future shots or how much they'll cost.

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Lindsey Graham intends to "lean into" climate change during Biden era

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told "Axios on HBO" he intends to "lean into" climate change and that he has already discussed potential common ground with President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry.

Behind the scenes: In a follow-up interview with Axios, Graham said Kerry called him in November, around the time Kerry's new position was announced, to see if there were openings to work together.

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Lindsey Graham: Trump could make the GOP "stronger" or "destroy" it

Sen. Lindsey Graham told "Axios on HBO" that Donald Trump has a "dark side" but he tries to "harness the magic" because he succeeded where Republican candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney failed.

Why it matters: The South Carolina Republican gyrates between support and criticism of the former president, even after Trump harshly criticized McCain — Graham's longtime friend — and helped spark the Capitol insurrection.

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Senate plots its own earmark comeback

With the Senate done battling over President Biden's coronavirus rescue package, it's preparing to tackle another priority: earmarks.

Driving the news: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top members on the Senate Appropriations Committee, are expected to work out a deal restoring the congressional spending tool in the coming weeks, committee aides tell Axios.

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