Kathleen Sebelius to Resign

Obama will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the next HHS secretary.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (L) leaves after the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about the troubled launch of the Healthcare.gov website October 30, 2013.
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
April 10, 2014, 8:49 a.m.

Kath­leen Se­beli­us is resign­ing as Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­ret­ary in the wake of the dis­astrous Health­Care.gov launch, a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial con­firmed Thursday.

Pres­id­ent Obama will nom­in­ate Sylvia Math­ews Bur­well, the dir­ect­or of the White House budget of­fice, to lead HHS.

Obama had res­isted earli­er calls to fire someone over the Health­Care.gov de­bacle, say­ing he wanted to avoid even more up­heav­al as the de­part­ment scrambled to re­pair the en­roll­ment web­site.

But even though Obama­care en­roll­ment has bounced back since the Oct. 1 launch, Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats are still feel­ing the polit­ic­al ef­fects of the botched rol­lout and the haphaz­ard policy changes the ad­min­is­tra­tion has made to com­pensate for it.

Obama ac­cep­ted Se­beli­us’s resig­na­tion earli­er this week, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times. The Times said she ap­proached Obama about the de­cision some­time last month, after the web­site had sta­bil­ized and en­roll­ment had be­gun to turn a corner. The tim­ing al­lows the White House to an­swer calls for ac­count­ab­il­ity over the web­site’s ini­tial fail­ure while trum­pet­ing strong en­roll­ment num­bers and giv­ing Demo­crats a chance to call for changes dur­ing Bur­well’s con­firm­a­tion hear­ings.

Still, White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney ex­pressed con­fid­ence in Se­beli­us just last week, and she said in a March 31 in­ter­view with The Huff­ing­ton Post that she would “ab­so­lutely” stick around through Novem­ber, when the next en­roll­ment peri­od be­gins.

Get­ting Bur­well con­firmed as the new HHS sec­ret­ary will be chal­len­ging, but not im­possible. Re­pub­lic­ans will surely face pres­sure from con­ser­vat­ives not to help the ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ue to im­ple­ment the Af­ford­able Care Act. But a re­cent change to the Sen­ate’s rules means that Demo­crats can ap­prove Bur­well with just 51 votes. And she won con­firm­a­tion to lead the budget of­fice by a 96-0 vote.

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