Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be (Marcus Aurelius).
I HAVE been tuning in regularly to watch the US congressional committee hearings, partly for the ‘in your face’ nature of the questioning, but also because of what the process reveals about the fractious state of politics in the ‘Land of the Free’.
Confirmation hearings are an important part of the Senate’s constitutional responsibilities. Held under the aegis of the Appointments Clause, part of Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, they permit senators to scrutinise the president’s preferred appointees to high office. They include aspiring ambassadors, cabinet and assistant secretaries, and federal judges.
The purpose of the entire shebang – other than to provide political theatre to the poor huddled masses in lockdown (and I commend them to you on that basis alone) – is to act as a check and balance on the power of any incoming political authority and to ensure accountability.
The Biden administration already seems reluctant to be fettered by such constitutional niceties, the president having signed more than 50 executive actions up to March 8. As the White House federal register shows, 22 of these actions are direct reversals of Trump’s policies and many set out radically to alter American society.
Biden’s orders have expanded the mask mandate to all federal properties, removed previous limits on immigration, cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, instructed the US to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, and stopped it from leaving the World Health Organisation.
He has authorised the setting up of a powerful White House Gender Council to ‘advance gender equity and equality in the United States and around the world’, reversed the ban on transgender people serving in the military, and halted funding for the border wall with Mexico – encouraging a deluge of people into the southern states.
Biden says, without a trace of irony, ‘I want to make it clear – there’s a lot of talk, with good reason, about the number of executive orders that I have signed – I’m not making new law; I’m eliminating bad policy.’
Time will tell, but what the new president has done, without question, is to circumvent the Senate on important matters and he is clearly intent on driving through an extreme radical agenda. This from a man not known for high impact in more than four decades in power. Where is he getting the juice?
Confirmation hearings provide an insight into where the push may be coming from. Biden’s nominations for high office cast an unattractive light on some of the more shadowy figures who have, continue to, and aspire to do more, to change the US.
They are legion, but perhaps the most egregious is one Xavier Becerra, Attorney-General of the fine state of California, and nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services – a department with a 2021 proposed budget of $94.5billion in discretionary spending, $1.3trillion in mandatory funding, and more than 80,000 employees.
In this time of pandemic, the committee asked what special skills equip Mr Becerra to lead such a critical healthcare agency?
Well, it turns out he is a lawyer, the son of poor Mexican immigrants, and has served in the House for 24 years representing a district in downtown Los Angeles.
He clearly knows his way around a failed system and is said to be close to some of the big beasts of the Democratic Party, including the Clintons, the Bidens, Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom, and everyone’s new favourite, Kamala Harris.
What’s not to like then? Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, provided an answer: ‘It’s because he is such a thoroughly partisan actor with so little subject-matter expertise and such a demonstrated history of hostility toward basic values like the freedom of conscience.’
It is true that Becerra has no, nada, knowledge or experience of healthcare. But his wife, Carolina Reyes, is a perinatologist – an obstetrician who specialises in high-risk pregnancy care. So, no worries.
What Becerra does have is a fierce and longstanding reputation as a pro-abortion activist, a term he rejects. His views are for absolute freedom of reproductive choice – a stance too far for the great majority of American voters, including those who would advocate for women’s rights.
He claims to be a Roman Catholic, as does President Biden, but both clearly deal well with the cognitive dissonance they must be experiencing.
Becerra voted against the 2012 Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA), which sought to impose civil and criminal penalties on anyone knowingly attempting to perform a sex-selective abortion, an increasing trend among immigrant populations from China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries where male children are preferred.
He also argued before the US Court of Appeals that the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order of nuns, should be required to provide birth control services and abortion referrals under Obamacare, removing their right to exercise religious freedom.
In 2020, as Attorney-General for California, he responded to the Trump administration’s decision to restrict federal funding to the state because it requires all insurance providers to cover abortion. Becerra’s stance? That ‘California has the sovereign right to protect women’s reproductive rights’.
In committee, Becerra was highly reticent about his views, but his track record speaks for itself. He will doubtless be confirmed this week, with one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, swinging the balance of votes in his favour. As the religious among us might say: ‘God help us.’