President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has selected Xavier Becerra, the Democratic attorney general of California, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services, tapping a former congressman who would be the first Latino to run the department as it battles the surging coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Becerra became Mr. Biden’s clear choice only over the past few days, according to people familiar with the transition’s deliberations, and was a surprise. Mr. Becerra has carved out a profile on the issues of criminal justice and immigration, and he was long thought to be a candidate for attorney general.
But as attorney general in California, he has been at the forefront of legal efforts on health care, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by his Republican counterparts. He has also been vocal in the Democratic Party about fighting for women’s health.