President Biden’s nominee for well being secretary, Xavier Becerra, pledged Tuesday morning to work to “restore religion in public well being establishments” and to “look to seek out widespread trigger” together with his critics, as Republicans sought to color him as a liberal extremist who’s unqualified for the job.

Showing earlier than the Senate Committee on Well being, Schooling, Labor and Pensions, Mr. Becerra, the legal professional common of California, was grilled by Republicans who complained that he has no background within the well being career, and who focused his help for the Reasonably priced Care Act and for abortion rights.

“Principally, you’ve been in opposition to pro-life, on the file,” Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, stated to Mr. Becerra. He requested whether or not Mr. Becerra would decide to not utilizing taxpayer cash for abortions, which is presently barred by federal legislation, besides in cases the place the lifetime of the mom is at stake, or in incest or rape.

“I’ll decide to following the legislation,” Mr. Becerra replied — leaving himself some wiggle room ought to the legislation change.

Tuesday’s look was the primary of two Senate affirmation hearings for Mr. Becerra; he’s scheduled to seem earlier than the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. Regardless of the robust questions, Mr. Becerra seems headed for affirmation in a Senate evenly break up between Democrats and Republicans, however with Vice President Kamala Harris obtainable to interrupt a tie.

If confirmed, Mr. Becerra will instantly face a frightening job in main the division at a important second, throughout a pandemic that has claimed half a million lives and has taken a very devastating toll on people of color. He could be the primary Latino to function secretary of the federal Division of Well being and Human Companies.

Whereas Mr. Becerra, a former member of Congress, lacks direct expertise as a well being skilled, he took a deep curiosity in well being coverage whereas in Washington and helped write the Reasonably priced Care Act. He has extra just lately been on the forefront of authorized efforts to defend it, main 20 states and the District of Columbia in a marketing campaign to guard the act from being dismantled by Republicans.

Republicans and their allies within the conservative and anti-abortion actions have seized on Mr. Becerra’s protection of the A.C.A. in addition to his help for abortion rights. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, branded Mr. Becerra an “unqualified radical” in a publish on Twitter on Monday, saying, “Any Senator supporting him pays a worth with voters.”

The Conservative Motion Venture, an advocacy group, issued a press release on Monday signed by dozens of conservative leaders, together with a number of former members of Congress, complaining that Mr. Becerra had a “troubling file” with respect to “insurance policies regarding the sanctity of life, human dignity and non secular liberty.”

They cited specifically his vote in opposition to banning “late-term abortion,” and accused him of utilizing his position as legal professional common “to tip the scales in favor of Deliberate Parenthood,” a gaggle that advocates abortion rights. Requested by Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, concerning the late-term abortion vote, Mr. Becerra famous that his spouse is an obstetrician-gynecologist, and stated he would “work to seek out widespread floor” on the difficulty. Mr. Romney was not impressed. “It seems like we’re not going to achieve widespread floor there,” he replied.

Democrats are emphasizing Mr. Becerra’s expertise main one of many nation’s largest justice departments via an particularly attempting interval, and his up-from-the-bootstraps biography. A son of immigrants from Mexico, he attended Stanford College as an undergraduate and for legislation college. He served 12 phrases in Congress, representing Los Angeles, earlier than changing into the legal professional common of his dwelling state in 2017.

In her opening remarks, Senator Patty Murray, who’s presiding over Tuesday’s listening to as chairwoman of the Senate well being committee, stated Mr. Becerra had “confirmed himself as an government chief by seeing one of many nation’s largest justice departments via some of the difficult durations in latest historical past” and spotlighted his dedication to social justice.

“He has held firms accountable for flouting Covid-19 security guidelines and placing employees in danger,” Ms. Murray stated. And, she added, “he has labored all through his profession to advocate on behalf of communities of shade throughout well being, immigration, schooling.”