Key lines from the unveiling of Biden’s health team

“It’s a team of world-class experts at the top of their fields, crisis-tested, defined by a deep sense of duty, honor and patriotism. Already ready to jump in. They’ve been advising me, many of them, for a long time. And they’re going to get ready on day one to spare not a single effort to get this pandemic under control,” he said at an event in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden said that in consultation with Dr. Anthony Fauci, his newly announced chief medical adviser, he has outlined three objectives for the team. First, for his initial 100 days in office he will ask every American to wear a mask. The President-elect said he would sign an executive order on his first day in office to require masks, “where I can under the law, like federal buildings, interstate travel on planes, trains and buses.”

He said his team will help get “at least 100 million Covid vaccine shots into the arms of the American people in the first 100 days.”

Biden said his third priority is to get kids back into schools. He said that if Congress provides the necessary funding and states and cities put strong health measures in place, “My team will work to see that a majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”

The team will lead his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 284,000 Americans as of Tuesday afternoon and closed businesses and schools across the country.

Biden has named Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, as his nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services and Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was US surgeon general in the Obama administration, as his nominee for surgeon general. Becerra would be the first Latino to lead HHS if confirmed by the United States Senate. Murthy will also require Senate confirmation.

Fauci will serve as chief medical adviser to the President on coronavirus and will also continue in his role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Biden transition co-chair and former Obama administration official Jeff Zients will serve as coordinator of the Covid-19 response and counselor to the President, and Natalie Quillian, another Obama administration veteran, will serve as deputy coordinator of the Covid-19 response. Fauci, Zients and Quillian will not require Senate confirmation to serve in their posts.

The President-elect has also named Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden’s transition team, as the chair of his Covid-19 equity task force. Walensky and Nunez-Smith will not require Senate confirmation.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris praised the team of experts, and said they are “Americans who reflect the very best of our nation.”

“Opening our schools and economy safely and responsibly, getting this virus under control — all of it starts with listening to experts and leaders like these,” Harris said.

Here are key lines from the event introducing the nominees and appointees:

Xavier Becerra, Health and Human Services secretary nominee

“Now it’s our turn to discover the breathtaking opportunities before us in the midst of this hardship and pain. It’s our turn to build up and to back up our doctors and medical professionals, our hospitals and clinics, battling the coronavirus. Our turn to restore faith and confidence in our leaders, to deliver solutions that unite and heal us and inoculate us from fear. Our turn to spur our brightest minds to launch the next generation of innovative medicines and cures, and it is our turn to build a nation where at the President-elect so often says, health care is a right, not a privilege.”

“At HHS tackling pandemics, saving lives, keeping us healthy should be our calling card and we won’t forget there is a second ‘H’ in HHS. The human services. The work we do for our children, seniors and disabled. They will stand tall in a Biden-Harris HHS.”

Dr. Vivek Murthy, US surgeon general nominee

“If we work together, we will overcome this pandemic and return to our lives. But Covid-19 is not the only health crisis we face. If anything, it has underscored a host of other epidemics that are devastating families and shortening life spans. Crises like addiction, including the opioid crisis, our spiraling mental health concerns, our glaring racial health disparities and the high rates of chronic illness that we face like diabetes and heart disease. These challenges are both caused by but also exacerbated by broader societal issues from the economic strains so many people are facing to the disconnection and loneliness that many of us feel. In my new expanded role, I will work to bring a health focus to our policies across government so that our schools, our work places and our communities can be forces for strengthening our health and well-being.”

“More than anything, I will come to this role as a doctor. One who learned the most important lessons about medicine not in medical school but from the clinic that my parents opened when they first came to America as immigrants decades ago.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director (appointee)

“I’ve dedicated my career ever since to researching and treating infectious diseases, and to ending the HIV/AIDS crisis for good. Now a new virus is ravaging us. It’s striking hardest once again at the most vulnerable, the marginalized, the underserved.”

“I’m honored to work with an administration that understands that leading with science is the only way to deliver breakthroughs, to deliver hope and bring our nation back to full strength. To the American people and to each and every one of you at the CDC, I promise to work with you, to harness the power of American science, to fight this virus and prevent unnecessary illness and deaths so that we can all get back to our lives.”

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Covid-19 equity task force chair (appointee)

“I have wanted to be a doctor since I was 6 years old. And I’m a proud general internal medicine physician today, but as I grew up I came to understand that there were deeper dimensions to health beyond what I saw in the human biology textbooks that I borrowed from my mother’s bookshelf. I grew up on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, a place where people too often die too young from preventable conditions. My own father had his first stroke in his 40s and was left paralyzed. I learned there was a term for what we were: an underserved community, marginalized by place and by race.”

“It is not a coincidence and it is not a matter of genetics that more than 70% of African Americans and more than 60% of Latinx Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from Covid-19. The same disparities ingrained in our economy, our housing system, our food system, our justice system and so many other areas of our society have conspired in this moment to create a grief gap that we cannot ignore. It is our societal obligation to ensure equitable access to testing, treatments and vaccines. Equitable support for those who are hurting, and equitable pathways to opportunity as we emerge from this crisis and rebuild. Including for those most marginalized communities — the undocumented, the incarcerated, the homeless.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser on Covid-19 to the President (appointee)

“I believe, as you do, that in the fight against this pandemic we must lead with science, and that a key piece of our ongoing work is communicating consistently with the American people. Whether it’s maintaining social distancing and not congregating indoors, or the 100 day challenge you’ve described on masking, or to get as many people vaccinated as possible. These actions are bold, but they are doable and essential to help the public avoid unnecessary risks, to help us save lives, reopen so schools and businesses and to eventually beat the pandemic.”

“I look forward to advising you on these most urgent priorities, and to work with this team of world-class experts whom I have known for many years and deeply respect. I have been through many public health crises before, but this is the toughest one we have ever faced as a nation. The road ahead will not be easy. We have got a lot of hard and demanding work to do in the next year. But as we have done during previous crises, I also know we can get through this pandemic together as a nation.”

Jeff Zients, coordinator of the Covid-19 response (appointee)

“I’m not a doctor or a public health expert. In fact, we’ve got the best ones in the world on this team. But I do know management and execution. And the key part of the role you’ve asked me to take on is the last part. Coordinator. It’s about empowering experts, developing a culture of teamwork and maintaining a focus on strategy and execution. It’s knowing that leadership requires expertise, transparency and prioritization. It also requires trust, truth and integrity. To the American people, that’s what this team will provide.”

“We will utilize the full capacity of the federal government to get this pandemic under control. To harness and examine the date to expand testing, to deliver equipment and PPE to those on the front lines, to provide resources for schools and businesses to operate safely. To address the racial disparities and inequities of this pandemic. To rejoin the global fight against Covid-19, because no one is safe until everyone is safe. And with our collective expertise, we will oversee the rollout of the vaccine, which as the President-elect said, will be one of the greatest operational challenges our country has ever faced.”

Becerra, who is the first Latino to serve as California’s attorney general, has been a chief defender of the Affordable Care Act in court. As the Trump administration and a coalition of Republican state attorneys general fight to invalidate the landmark health reform law, Becerra has led a group of Democratic attorneys general arguing that the law remains valid. Becerra served 12 terms in Congress as a member of the US House of Representatives and held several leadership posts, including the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the ranking member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security

Murthy, a doctor of internal medicine, served as US surgeon general during the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017. In the role, Murthy helped lead the national response to the Ebola and Zika viruses and the opioid crisis. Murthy was part of Biden’s public health advisory committee when the pandemic first took hold in the US and has been serving as a co-chair of the President-elect’s Covid-19 advisory board during the transition.

Fauci has a lengthy career serving under six presidents from both parties, and is a leading member of President Donald Trump’s White House coronavirus task force. He has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.

Zients was a top economic adviser under Obama and is a co-chair of Biden’s transition team. Zients is credited with reviving the Obamacare enrollment website,, which was plagued with issues and crashed shortly after its launch in 2013. 

Quillian was deputy campaign manager for Biden’s presidential campaign and is a former White House and Pentagon senior adviser. She served all eight years in the Obama administration and helped coordinate the interagency response to the opioid epidemic.

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

Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of Biden’s transition team, serves as an associate professor of medicine, public health, and management and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. She is the founding director of Yale’s Equity Research and Innovation Center, which is focused on addressing inequities in health and health care. 

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