Will Sen. Joe Manchin nix President Biden’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services?

In a Senate split 50-50 along party lines, the Democrat from West Virginia already doomed Neera Tanden’s nomination as director of the Office of Management and Budget when he came out against her. Mr. Manchin’s opposition to a $15-an-hour minimum wage likewise helped force it off the Covid-19 relief bill. The question now is whether he really means to serve as a check on the Biden administration, or whether bringing down Ms. Tanden was a token act designed to buy him a pass for supporting more-extreme picks such as Xavier Becerra, the California culture warrior tapped for health secretary.

As usual Mr. Manchin isn’t saying much, beyond a simple statement a week ago that he hasn’t yet made up his mind. Without his support Democrats can’t force the tie needed to allow Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the deciding vote. Unless of course a Republican senator—say, Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins—broke ranks too.

At the moment the anti-Becerra campaign is leading with the argument that at a time of pandemic he isn’t a doctor and has no experience in healthcare. But this isn’t much better than the argument that Betsy DeVos wasn’t qualified to be education secretary because she had no education degree or experience as a public-school teacher. What cabinet secretaries most need isn’t a particular expertise—they have many experts at their disposal—but leadership and judgment.

The other broad objection is that Mr. Becerra would use his post to push a left-wing agenda on issues such as abortion, Medicare for All and immigration. No doubt this is true. But how would Republicans like it if a GOP cabinet nominee were deemed unfit simply because she intended to promote pro-life policies?



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