Becerra, President Biden's decision to direct the Health and Human Services Department, contrasted with Cuban-Americans in the House Hispanic caucus after, as chairman of the group, he traveled to the island to meet with Castro.
Moderates in Congress like Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, have not yet determined how they’ll vote in Becerra’s confirmation. Becerra was inquired by conservatives who showed concerns that he was too liberal or inexperienced as a healthcare leader.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Republicans from South Florida, said in 1997 that they were "personally insulted" by the former congressman's four-day trip to the island nation. They left the caucus, which then had no Republican members remaining.
Diaz-Balart said that he would not offer membership dues to the caucus until Becerra "demonstrates minimal respect for the rights of Cubans to be free and calls for free elections for that oppressed island," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Becerra later said he could not issue a call for free and fair elections. "This is an issue that the caucus doesn't take positions on," he said, so he could not make a statement, according to The Hill.
Assistants of Becerra brushed off scrutiny at the time, saying he had tried to hear from all sides and had talked to both Cuban dissidents and Castro himself.
Becerra later defended the trip, telling NPR: "As an American citizen who has had the privilege now of being elected to Congress ... I should be as educated as I can be on a number of issues.
"I'm very disappointed that the two members decided to take this action. I consider them friends," he said. "And I know that they are very passionate about the issue. Certainly, it -- the whole issue of Cuba is one that the caucus, because there has not been a strong consensus, has decided not to take on. I -- as the new chair of the caucus, it was not my intention to change that policy either. They chose, however, to make it an issue," he said.
Becerra has repeatedly voted for softening the trade embargo with Cuba. In 2007, he supported an amendment by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., to make it easier to export farm goods to Cuba and another amendment from Rangel that forbade funding to fulfill the trade embargo with Cuba.