After enduring searing scrutiny during the marred launch of President Barack Obama’s health care law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is calling it quits, according to news reports.
Sebelius, who served as governor of Kansas from 2003-2009, began discussing her departure last month, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told The New York Times.
“What was clear is that she thought that it was time to transition the leadership to somebody else,” McDonough told the Times. “She’s made clear in other comments publicly that she recognizes that she takes a lot of the incoming. She does hope – all of us hope – that we can get beyond the partisan sniping.”
Obama will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, sources told the Times.
“The president wants to make sure we have a proven manager and relentless implementer in the job over there, which is why he is going to nominate Sylvia,” McDonough said.
Sebelius was the face of the unpopular 2010 law and faced off against congressional Republicans throughout the flawed implementation process. Many called for her resignation or firing following the launch of the federal website aimed at signing up people for the newly mandated coverage, as it stalled, broke and crawled to functionality.
Kansas state lawmaker Clark Shultz – a former Republican chairman of the legislature's House Insurance Committee who served in the legislature during Sebelius’ time as state insurance commissioner and governor – had described the Democrat as a smart politician willing to stand by her principles.
"She was not a coarse person, I think she always seems to try to get along with people very well," he told U.S. News last October. "Nobody could argue she certainly didn't know what she was doing politically in getting elected and moving her agenda."
Republicans already are trumpeting the news and hoping to parlay it into a broader political loss for Obama and a damning rebuke of his signature domestic policy.
"Secretary Sebelius oversaw a disastrous rollout of Obamacare, but anyone can see that there are more problems on the way,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a release. “It's time for President Obama to admit that Democrats' signature law is a failure and heed Republican calls for patient-centered health care reform."
And while the nomination of a new cabinet head will surely lead to a contentious confirmation process, it may just be Democrats and Obama who get the better end of the political deal. Any new secretary will have the luxury of blaming past issues on Sebelius and claiming to be turning the page to a more efficient, effective and successful future.
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