Monday, December 07, 2020

Ties, Politics and Stem Cells: The Becerra Nomination

The Californian who is slated to head the vast federal agency that includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA)  got his start in politics with the man who is now the vice chair of the California stem cell research program. 

Xavier Becerra
Photo: Lucy Nicholson, Reuters
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was nominated this week to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after a long career as a congressman and leader of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.  

Becerra was reared in Sacramento by Mexican immigrants, went off to Stanford as an undergraduate and also received a law degree from the Palo Alto university in 1984. Later, he went to work for then State Sen. Art Torres, now vice chair of the stem cell agency, and in 1986 moved to Los Angeles to direct Torres' district office. Torres, former state Democratic party chairman, and Becerra continue to have close political ties, we understand.

Becerra was elected to the state legislature and Congress with the support of Torres. Becerra served from 1993 to 2017 in the House of Representatives, a period that included top leadership positions. He will have his hands full in Washington. Some Republicans are opposing his nomination because of his stand on abortion and his work on the Affordable Care Act. The Los Angeles Times editorial board labelled Becerra as President-elect Biden's Obamacare "fix-it guy." 

While Becerra's professional life has largely been in politics, he does have a spousal, medical tie. His wife, Carolina Reyes, is a physician, educated at Stanford with an M.D. from Harvard. She is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, has taught at USC and has been active in a wide range of professional and community activities. Currently she is a member of the governing board of the California Health Care Foundation.

"Reyes is recognized nationwide for her career-long efforts to improve the care of women with high-risk pregnancies — especially those in medically underserved communities," the foundation says

The $12 billion state stem cell agency has been working with the NIH and FDA to expedite approval of stem cell therapies that the agency has helped to finance. The agency points to its sickle cell initiative with the NIH as an example of federal-state cooperation. 

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