‘Exceedingly Deep Convictions’: Inside Xavier Becerra’s Quest For Health Care For Immigrants

Biden’s HHS nominee would have multiple levers to help undocumented workers obtain medical coverage.

When President Barack Obama headed to the Capitol in 2009 to make a late-stage push for the Affordable Care Act, pleading to a joint session of Congress that the “season for action” had arrived, it wasn’t only Republicans who became affronted: then-Rep. Xavier Becerra, the California Democrat who had been lobbying for a more immigrant-friendly bill, listened as the president threw cold water on policies that they had been discussing for months.

“There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally,” Obama said.

Becerra had been pushing the White House for more health care for undocumented immigrants in the Affordable Care Act. He and some other Hispanic leaders engaged in repeated, lengthy debates with Obama, who was clear-eyed on the tough politics of offering more benefits to undocumented immigrants but hadn’t closed the door to the idea, according to lawmakers who attended the meetings.

As if to illustrate the fury with which the GOP regarded the issue of health care for undocumented immigrants, even Obama’s sharp disavowal of it prompted Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) to scream “you lie!” across the chamber.

Obama’s decision to cave in to the Wilson wing of the Republican Party was “more than disturbing,” Becerra told POLITICO at the time.

“I’m not sure what the White House is doing with this. Shadow boxing helps no one,” he told the Associated Press.

By Maggie Severns for POLITICO
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