Sebelius Confirmed as Secretary of HHS
Updated 6:26 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray
The Senate approved the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services, filling the final seat in President Obama's Cabinet on the eve of his 100th day in office.
Democrats had sought a quick vote on the Kansas governor as Congress moves ahead with health-care reform this summer, but Republicans slowed Sebelius's advancement because of her record in favor of abortion rights. GOP procedural objections faded with the recent outbreak of swine flu and the threat of a global pandemic. Sebelius was confirmed by a 65-31 vote this afternoon.
"It is essential for the health of the nation that President Obama has in place, and the nation has in place, a strong secretary of HHS to make sure our federal efforts on this potential pandemic are able to coordinate," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Sebelius, 60, was a prominent early Obama supporter who was elected twice in a conservative heartland state. Democratic leaders were openly courting the popular governor, who is limited by Kansas law to two terms, to run for the Senate in 2010 to succeed conservative GOP Sen. Sam Brownback, who has entered the race to succeed Sebelius. But Sebelius accepted the HHS post after former senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) withdrew from consideration following questions about his tax returns.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is leading the Senate's health-care reform effort, cited Sebelius's success in a Republican state as vital experience to building support for the legislation across party lines. "Governor Sebelius' record shows that she approaches problems from all sides. She is prepared to try creative solutions. She is forward-thinking. She's willing to work with everyone," Baucus said on the Senate floor.
But Republicans criticized the governor's support for abortion rights and her ties to a Wichita doctor who performs abortions and who has contributed to her political campaigns. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) [fixed; thanks, nero2! -- ed.] called Sebelius's record on the issue "a fatal character flaw that should have disqualified her" from the HHS job.
Brownback, an ardent opponent of abortion right, supported Sebelius's nomination, as did Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), a Republican who announced earlier today that he was becoming a Democrat.
Posted at 6:29 PM ET on Apr 28, 2009
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