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Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, a longtime Democratic health policy expert, has emerged as the leading candidate to run President Joe Biden’s Medicare and Medicaid agency, according to three sources familiar with the Biden team’s discussions.

The eventual head of the trillion-dollar agency will be charged with overseeing Biden’s pledge to expand Obamacare and reverse Trump-era restrictions on the health care safety net.

Biden’s search for the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has long revolved around two leading candidates: Brooks-LaSure and North Carolina health secretary Mandy Cohen, who both served in the agency during the Obama administration. But in recent weeks, Brooks-LaSure has been seen as the clear frontrunner, sources said.

She is well-regarded by the Biden team and received high marks for helping lead the transition’s health care work. Though Cohen has support from a coalition of former Obama officials, including some now serving in the Biden administration, she is currently not considered the favorite for the job, two sources said.

Health care advocates say there’s urgency for Biden to install a CMS administrator and fill out political appointments at the agency, even as the pandemic response dominates his immediate agenda. They worry further delay could mean months before the Senate approves his eventual nominee for CMS administrator, given the need to confirm other Cabinet posts.

“I think there’s a need to get people into those positions as soon as possible because there’s so much work to do,” said Judy Solomon, a health policy expert at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

However, people familiar with the Biden team’s discussions said they don’t appear to be in a rush to declare a nominee for CMS administrator, because they are focused on the pandemic and getting Senate confirmation of Biden’s nominee for health secretary, Xavier Becerra. The sources also cautioned that additional candidates could still be considered. The White House declined to comment.


Biden has begun to put his Obamacare agenda into motion, reopening the law’s health insurance markets later this month

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 and ordering a review of the previous administration’s policies Democrats regarded as “sabotage.” But health care policy experts said it will take longerto unwind Trump’s conservative initiatives, like the first-ever Medicaid work requirements, and imprint Biden’s own priorities on CMS without his appointees in place. Biden has also not named other political appointees to CMS who won’t need Senate confirmation.

The CMS administrator is one of two major health care posts that Biden has yet to fill. Biden also has not named a commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, amid a broad internal debate over who should lead an agency central to his administration’s pandemic response. Biden’s health care picks are also still awaiting Senate review, including Becerra and Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy.

The top CMS job is one of the most consequential health posts in any administration. It oversees coverage for roughly 150 million people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and it sets policies on everything from drug costs to physician payments. The agency also played a prominent role in the Trump administration’s pandemic response, expanding telehealth coverage and tightening rules for a nursing home industry hit hard by the virus.

Brooks-LaSure, who did not respond to a request for comment, is now a managing director of the consulting firm Manatt Health. When she served at CMS during the Obama administration, she helped launch the Affordable Care Act and was deputy director of the agency’s health insurance office. She previously worked on the ACA’s drafting as a staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee, where she forged strong working ties with Becerra — who at the time was a member of the panel.

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VIDEO: Biden administration faces lawsuit from Texas, Missouri

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Texas AG Ken Paxton tells newsmen that he believes the states will win in court and discusses the debate over reforming the Supreme Court.

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Border Crisis

Sen. Blackburn asks Biden admin why U.S. spending $284K per migrant family to keep them in hotels

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“The cost to taxpayers for housing 1,200 migrant families for six months is about $71,000 per person,” the Tennessee senator says.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn has done the math.

The Tennessee Republican’s interest was piqued after the Biden administration announced its intention to spend nearly $87 million to house 1,200 foreigners who illegally cross the border in hotel rooms in the U.S.

“As the current contract stands, the cost to taxpayers for housing 1,200 migrant families for six months is about $71,000 per person,” Blackburn wrote in a letter Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting Director Tae Johnson. “For a family of four, that amounts to a shocking $284,000 – enough to buy a small house.”

Earlier this month, the administration awarded ICE an $86.9 million contract through Texas-based nonprofit Endeavors, which will provide hotel rooms near the border for temporary shelter. But Blackburn also questions how the group spends its money.

She said Endeavors in 2018 collected more than $38 million in contributions and grants but noted that “IRS filings show that nearly $22 million or almost half of those contributions went to salaries.”

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“This raises questions if half of the $86.9 million in ICE contract proceeds will likewise be allocated toward employee and executive compensation instead of migrant services or housing,” Blackburn wrote in her letter.

She also expressed concerns that Endeavors’ CEO Jon Allman has not provided “specific details about the contract.”

“It is unclear whether this nonprofit has ever previously managed a contract of this magnitude, housed a migrant population of this size or served vulnerable children without putting them at further risk,” Blackburn wrote. “DHS and ICE must provide commitments to assure Congress and the American public that Endeavors is up for the task of securely and efficiently housing illegal immigrants without resulting in waste or abuse of taxpayer dollars, or worse, harming vulnerable migrant children.”

Blackburn asked for answers by April 15.

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Border Crisis

Joe Biden: ‘I Don’t Care’ if Donald Trump Visits the Border

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President Joe Biden dismissed the news that former President Donald Trump is considering a visit to the southern border.

A reporter questioned Biden about the border crisis, and reports about Trump’s possible visit, as he returned to Washington from a weekend at his home in Delaware.

“We are putting in place a plan that I feel very confident about,” Biden replied. “And I don’t care what the other guy does.”

Biden did not answer a question about when he would make his own trip to visit the border.

Former President Trump confirmed he is interested in visiting the border to highlight Biden’s border crisis in the “next couple of weeks,” during an interview Saturday on Fox News.

“Thousands and thousands of people are coming up right now as we speak,” Trump said. “And you’re going to have millions of people pouring into our country. And it’s going to destroy our country.”

Biden continues struggling to manage the border crisis, despite publicly delegating Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday to lead the administration’s efforts to secure the border.

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But on Friday, Harris’s team clarified that the vice president “was not doing the border” but only leading the “diplomatic efforts” with Latin American countries to address the root causes of migration.

Both Biden and Harris refuse to commit to visiting the border, despite record numbers of unattended child migrants crossing into the U.S. and overwhelming Border Patrol detention facilities.

Despite the Biden administration repeatedly telling migrants the border is closed, the president makes it clear that unattended migrant children are not getting sent back.

“The only people we’re not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves with no help are children,” Biden said during his press conference on Sunday.

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