Whoops, Biden's HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra Violated the Hatch Act

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

When Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra appeared at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Annual Awards Gala in September 2022 in his official capacity and expressed his support for California Sen. Alex Padilla’s re-election he violated the Hatch Act, according to a Tuesday letter to President Joe Biden from Henry Kerner of the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC).


At the gala Becerra, a former member of the Caucus, was presented with the 2022 American Dream Medallion Award. His prepared acceptance remarks focused on the work of HHS and the Biden-Harris Administration and had been reviewed and approved ahead of time by an HHS Ethics Division attorney. Then Becerra added:

“To my brother, my friend and Senator, and someone I will be voting for in a little bit more than a month, Alex Padilla, thank you so much, Senator, for being there for all of us. We are proud to have you as our Senator.”

According to an investigative report accompanying the letter, Becerra’s staff were recording the speech and one can be heard saying, “No, no, you can’t say that.”

For those who might need a little refresher on the Hatch Act and its applicability here, the OSC report provides some help:

“The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election. In delivering his speech, Secretary Becerra impermissibly mixed his personal electoral preference with official remarks. While federal employees are permitted to express support for candidates when speaking in their personal capacity, the Hatch Act restricts employees from doing so when speaking as a government official.”

It’s not as though Becerra is unfamiliar with the Hatch Act. Becerra served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993-2017, when he was appointed California Attorney General upon Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate. When Joe Biden took office, he rewarded Becerra for the endless baseless lawsuits he filed against the Trump administration by appointing him as Secretary of Health and Human Services. So at this point he’s been subject to Hatch Act restrictions for more than 25 years. Like other California Democrats, though, Becerra is used to people looking the other way and accepting that they are not to be held accountable to the laws they expect others to follow.


After the House Ethics Committee looked the other way when Becerra’s then-colleague (and now Los Angeles Mayor) Karen Bass received a special scholarship from the University of Southern California that was created just for her, perhaps Becerra felt ethics laws didn’t really matter.

To that point, here’s Becerra’s explanation of the incident, from the Office of the Special Counsel’s report:

During OSC’s investigation, Secretary Becerra responded to questions about his speech at the Gala and explained that his opening remarks about Senator Padilla were “off‐the‐cuff” and not something he had planned to say until he was at the podium. He said his remarks reflected his “longstanding personal relationship” with Senator Padilla. He also said, “I certainly am proud of Alex Padilla and his accomplishments and said so from the perspective of someone who has witnessed many of his achievements.” With respect to his reference to the Senator as “someone [he] will be voting for in a little bit more than a month,” Secretary Becerra stated, “I don’t believe I thought of that as conveying anything more than what I as a responsible citizen would be doing in the near future.”

While that answer might make Gavin Newsom proud, it didn’t fly with the OSC. From the report:

Secretary Becerra crossed the line by conveying his electoral support for the Senator. Not only did Secretary Becerra express pride at having Senator Padilla as his Senator, he referred to him as “someone [he] will be voting for in a little bit more than a month….” In doing so, Secretary Becerra violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using his official authority or influence to affect the result of an election.

Moreover, Secretary Becerra should have known that the Hatch Act prohibited him from expressing support for Senator Padilla’s reelection. Since joining HHS, he has participated in comprehensive training on the Hatch Act, including a presentation from the White House Counsel’s Office just three months before the Gala. His statement was so obviously concerning that a member of his own staff, present at the Gala, gasped and said, “no, no, you can’t say that” immediately after hearing it.

Lastly, OSC considered Secretary Becerra’s explanations as to why he made the remarks at issue. Because Secretary Becerra is well‐informed about the Hatch Act’s prohibitions, he knew or should have known that his “longstanding personal relationship” with Senator Padilla did not exempt him from the Act’s prohibition about expressing, even extemporaneously, his electoral support for the Senator in an official speech. Similarly, this belief that his expressed intention to vote for Senator Padilla was merely the statement of a “responsible citizen” is belied by the fact that his speech was clearly conducted in his official capacity as HHS Secretary. Therefore, Secretary Becerra’s proffered explanations do not serve to mitigate the issuance of this Report to the President.


In the cover letter to the report, Kerner admonished Biden:

With a presidential election approaching next year, this report offers an opportunity to deter violations by reminding federal employees at all levels of the Hatch Act’s restrictions.

Becerra says he’s now received additional training about the Hatch Act. Maybe the 28th time will be the charm.


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