Updated 8:37 p.m. | Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning and President Barack Obama will replace her with OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
Sebelius's resignation comes on a relatively high note, with the White House trumpeting a late surge in initial signups for the Affordable Care Act exchanges — topping 7.5 million just today. But she was deeply damaged by the disastrous initial rollout of the Healthcare.gov website last year, and there had been speculation on how long she would last as a result.
Health and Human Services released a statement on her decision to resign:
From her work on Head Start, to expanding mental health coverage, to advancing cutting-edge health care research and, of course, her unwavering leadership in implementing the Affordable Care Act, Secretary Sebelius often calls her work here the most meaningful of her life. As she closes this chapter, Secretary Sebelius is extremely thankful to President Obama and very proud of the historic accomplishments of this Administration.Burwell, who has already cleared one Senate confirmation process, will have to clear another, although in a post-nuclear-option Senate, Republicans do not have the ability to block her nomination. That might have been different if Sebelius had waited until next year, should Republicans take back control of the chamber. “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,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the Times .
Already, Republicans were praising Burwell's pick.
"Sylvia Burwell is an excellent choice to be the next #HHS Secretary," tweeted Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., praised Sebelius for leaving.
“This is the right decision," he said. "The challenge for Ms. Burwell, or any other successor, is to help Congress find the right way to repair the damage Obamacare has done to American families.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., put out a statement thanking Sebelius for her service and lauding Burwell's nomination.
“I am so pleased that Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a native West Virginian and current Director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been nominated as the next Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services," he said. "Sylvia’s experience in both the public and private sector, matched with the bipartisan relationships she has built over the years, shows that she is a public servant ready to take on this country’s challenges. I am confident that her leadership will ensure that we enact commonsense fixes to the Affordable Care Act to help improve the lives of millions of Americans."House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised Sebelius in a lengthy statement.
“Her legacy will be found in the 7.5 million Americans signed up on the marketplaces so far, the 3.1 million people covered on their parents' plans, and the millions more gaining coverage through the expansion of Medicaid," she said. "Beyond the law, her lasting impact will be felt in her work to expand mental health services, decrease disparities across communities, and promote women's health."Burwell's pick creates an opening at budget, which will also require Senate confirmation.
It's not immediately clear who will get tapped for the post. The current deputy director is Brian Deese, and senior Obama adviser Rob Nabors also is a former deputy director.
Republicans also used the occasion to whack the Affordable Care Act yet again.
"I thank Secretary Sebelius for her service. She had an impossible task: nobody can make Obamacare work," tweeted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
With Sebelius' departure, just five of Obama's original cabinet members remain — Eric Shinseki at Veterans Affairs, Shaun Donovan at Housing and Urban Development, Arne Duncan at Education, Eric Holder at Justice, and Tom Vilsack at Agriculture.