President Obama Officially Nominates Kathleen Sebelius’s Replacement

The president announced Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his nominee to be the next Health and Human Services secretary Friday.

President Obama names Sylvia Mathews Burwell, his current budget director, to replace Heath and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on April 11, 2014.
National Journal
Clara Ritger and Sam Baker
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Clara Ritger Sam Baker
April 11, 2014, 7:49 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama took an­oth­er health care vic­tory lap Fri­day while an­noun­cing the resig­na­tion of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Kath­leen Se­beli­us.

Obama praised Se­beli­us in a Rose Garden ad­dress, as he form­ally nom­in­ated budget chief Sylvia Math­ews Bur­well to be the next HHS sec­ret­ary.

Se­beli­us led HHS through the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the pres­id­ent’s sig­na­ture health law, and faced tough cri­ti­cism after the on­line portal to sign up for the new health plans struggled to get off the ground last fall.

But the at­mo­sphere Fri­day was cel­eb­rat­ory of Se­beli­us’s time in of­fice, and the pres­id­ent touted her suc­cess in turn­ing around Health­Care.gov and get­ting 7.5 mil­lion people signed up for cov­er­age.

“Yes, we lost the first quarter of the open en­roll­ment peri­od be­cause of the prob­lems with Health­Care.go — and they were prob­lems. But un­der Kath­leen’s lead­er­ship, her team and HHS turned the corner.”¦ The fi­nal score speaks for it­self,” Obama said.

Se­beli­us said she was proud of the “tre­mend­ous pro­gress” the de­part­ment has made des­pite the leg­al and le­gis­lat­ive battles the law has faced over the past four years.

“I got to be a lead­er of HHS dur­ing these most his­tor­ic times,” Se­beli­us said. “We are on the front lines of a long over­due na­tion­al change, fix­ing a broken health sys­tem.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There’s a reas­on that no earli­er pres­id­ent was suc­cess­ful in passing health re­form.”

Bur­well is in­her­it­ing the de­part­ment as chal­lenges re­main head­ing in­to the law’s second year. Some con­sumers are still try­ing to get signed up, and Health­Care.gov isn’t out of the red, with some re­pairs re­main­ing.

The White House has ex­pressed con­fid­ence in Bur­well as a man­ager and lead­er to take the helm dur­ing the health law’s next phase. Chief of Staff Denis Mc­Donough said in an in­ter­view with The New York Times that the pres­id­ent se­lec­ted Bur­well be­cause she is “a proven man­ager and re­lent­less im­ple­menter.” Bur­well has served as the dir­ect­or of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Budget for a year.

Se­beli­us is ex­pec­ted to re­main with the de­part­ment dur­ing the trans­ition peri­od. Bur­well must be con­firmed by a ma­jor­ity vote in the Sen­ate, which de­parts today for spring re­cess and is not sched­uled to re­turn un­til April 28.

It’s un­clear wheth­er Bur­well will face strong op­pos­i­tion from Re­pub­lic­ans, who have had is­sues with sev­er­al oth­er nom­in­ees this year.

But Bur­well sailed through the Sen­ate last year on a 96-0 vote to be­come head of OMB, and she has already re­ceived the sup­port of some con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors, such as  Re­pub­lic­an John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona, who tweeted his con­grat­u­la­tions fol­low­ing re­ports late Thursday that she was the pres­id­ent’s next pick.

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