WASHINGTON — Embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning as the White House seeks to move past the election-year political damage inflicted by the rocky rollout of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Sebelius’ resignation comes just over a week after sign-ups closed for the first year of insurance coverage under the so-called Obamacare law. The opening weeks of the enrollment period were marred by widespread website woes, though the administration rebounded strongly by enrolling 7.1 million people by the March 31 deadline, exceeding initial expectations. Enrollment has since risen to 7.5 million as people were given extra time to complete applications.
Even with the late surge in sign-ups, the law remains unpopular with many Americans and Republicans have made it a centerpiece of their efforts to retake the Senate in the fall.
Sebelius’ resignation could also set the stage for a contentious confirmation hearing to replace her. In a sign that the White House is seeking to avoid a nomination fight, the president was tapping Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius. Burwell was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for her current post.
A White House official requested anonymity to confirm Sebelius’ resignation and Burwell’s nomination ahead of the formal announcement. Obama has not nominated anyone to replace Burwell as budget director.
Obama remained publicly supportive of Sebelius throughout the rough rollout, deflecting Republican calls for her resignation. But she was conspicuously not standing by his side last week when he heralded the sign-up surge during an event in the White House Rose Garden.
The official said the 65-year-old Sebelius approached Obama last month about stepping down, telling him that the sign-up deadline was a good opportunity for a transition and suggesting he would be better served by someone who was less of a political target.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Sebelius’ home state of Kansas, called the resignation “a prudent decision” given what she called the total failure of Obamacare implementation.
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