President Biden’s nominee for health secretary Xavier Becerra claimed that he “never sued any nuns” during a Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
As California attorney general, Becerra sued the federal government in 2017 to reimpose a federal mandate under Obamacare to force insurance providers to provide contraceptives. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a non-profit organization of Catholic nuns, fought the suit in order to keep a religious exemption to the contraception mandate. This action resulted in a suit by the State of California against Little Sisters of the Poor, which is currently under consideration in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
During the confirmation hearing, Senator John Thune (R., S.D.) asked Becerra if he would continue to work on the issue of abortion if confirmed as health secretary.
“I understand that Americans have different…beliefs on this particular issue,” Becerra said. “By the way, I have never sued any nuns. I have taken on the federal government, but I’ve never sued any affiliation of nuns. My actions have always been directed at federal agencies because they have been trying to do things that are contrary to the law.”
Senator James Lankford (R., Ok.) subsequently pressed Becerra to clarify his views on religious freedom, asking if Becerra would enforce “existing federal law on conscience issues.”
“I believe deeply in religious freedom,” Becerra said, adding that he would respect and enforce existing laws regarding religious freedom within the Department of Health and Human Services.
Lankford then pointed out that Becerra had fought against religious exemptions sought by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
“The actions we took were against the federal government, and once again, we were defending our state’s law and its rights under the law,” Becerra said.