Biden to tap Jewish doctor as Centers for Disease Control chief

Rochelle Walensky is head of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital; US president-elect to nominate California attorney general Xavier Becerra as secretary of health

Screen capture from video of Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital. (YouTube)

WASHINGTON, United States — US President-elect Joe Biden has picked Rochelle Walensky to head the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government’s health protection agency, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported.

Biden will also nominate California attorney general Xavier Becerra as secretary of health and human services, which would add another Latino member to the president-elect’s increasingly diverse cabinet, US media reported Sunday. He would be the first Latino to head the department.

Walensky, who is Jewish, is chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital and is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

She will replace Robert Redfield as director of the CDC, which has come under pressure from the Trump administration and its allies over its coronavirus guidance.

Walensky has been fighting the coronavirus outbreak in Boston, telling the Jewish Journal in April this year of the pressure she and her fellow doctors were facing in confronting COVID-19.

“It’s a little bit like being in a tunnel looking at an oncoming train,” Walensky told Journal.

She said she draws comfort from her synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Newton recalling that she had told them “‘I’m thinking I need you more than you need me.'”

Walensky is an avid Twitter user, posting frequent updates about the campaign against the coronavirus and other health issues to her 17,700 followers. In the past Walensky, who is married and has three boys, served as a physician for the Camp Yavneh summer program in New Hampshire, where she was also a member of the board.

Screen capture from video California Attorney General Xavier Becerra during a virtual news conference from Sacramento, California, October 12, 2020. (State of California via AP)

During Becerra’s 12 terms in the US Congress representing Los Angeles, he was an outspoken advocate of Latino rights and a vigorous defender of former president Barack Obama’s signature health care program — a policy that has been much attacked by US President Donald Trump and Republicans.

NBC, The New York Times and several other news organizations reported on the plan to nominate Becerra, citing anonymous sources close to the president-elect.

Becerra, 62, was elected as California attorney general in 2016, succeeding Vice President-elect Kamala Harris after she was elected to the US Senate. Becerra was the first Latino to hold that office.

While in office, he also defended the immigrant rights program DACA in front of the Supreme Court.

According to the Times, Becerra’s nomination comes after complaints from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about a lack of Latinos in the incoming cabinet.

Biden has announced Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas as his pick to head the Department of Homeland Security.

If confirmed, Becerra would be tasked with leading the health department amid the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 282,000 in the US.

US President-elect Joe Biden participates in a virtual meeting with the National Association of Counties Board of Directors about jobs at The Queen theater, in Wilmington, Delaware, December 4, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

For the third day in a row, the United States on Saturday notched a record number of coronavirus cases in 24 hours, reaching nearly 230,000 new infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Biden has stressed that he would strive for diversity while choosing staff for when he takes office in January.

In addition to Becerra, other firsts include the first female Treasury secretary, the first female head of intelligence and the first Latino chief of homeland security.

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