New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and former Obama-era surgeon general Vivek Murthy have emerged as top picks for Health and Human Services Secretary in the incoming Biden administration, Politico reported late Tuesday.
The role will arguably be among the most important that Biden will fill as the federal government prepares to roll out distribution of COVID-19 vaccines amid surging cases of the virus.
The HHS secretary will play a key role in managing how the nation conducts pandemic response, along with rebuilding trust in science-based guidance and health expertise, which President Donald Trump has spent many months eroding.
Although Biden has not yet made a formal decision, the nomination could follow a series of firsts as Biden seeks to diversify his team. Politico points out that Grisham would be the first Latina nominated for the role and that Murthy’s selection would make him the first nominee of Indian descent for the job.
An announcement of Biden’s pick for the role is not expected until Monday at the earliest, three people with knowledge of the selection process told Politico.
Murthy would join a host of Obama administration alumni if selected. A former surgeon general, who once focused on tackling the opioid crisis and the loneliness epidemic, he has served as health adviser to Biden during the campaign. Murthy has played a significant role in the incoming administration’s pandemic planning as co-chair of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board.
Grisham, another top contender for the leading HHS job, has broad managerial expertise — she once ran New Mexico’s health department. Grisham, a former U.S. congresswoman was elected governor in 2019, and has been rigorous in her efforts to curb COVID-19 in her state. She declared a statewide emergency on the same day her state confirmed its first positive cases.
While is not uncommon for incoming presidents to select governors to lead the Health and Human Services department, Grisham does not share ties to the Obama White House that have been characteristic of many of Biden’s picks so far.
According to Politico, Murthy will likely have a future in the Biden administration even if he is not selected as HHS secretary — potentially as part of the White House’s Covid-19 response team.
Also up for consideration have included Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, former Louisiana health secretary Rebekah Gee and North Carolina health secretary Mandy Cohen.