Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was the face of the president’s health care law, is resigning from the Obama administration — a decision that closes one of the rockiest tenures in Obama’s Cabinet.
Sebelius leaves the administration after the tumultuous launch of the Affordable Care Act exchanges last fall. Despite calls for her ouster from Republicans at the time, she stayed on until the enrollment period ended at the end of March.
A White House official said President Obama will formally make the announcement on Friday, and nominate White House budget office director Sylvia Matthews Burwell to replace the outgoing secretary. The Senate would have to confirm Burwell to the position.
The administration has since touted the surge in enrollment in the last few weeks, with Sebelius saying Thursday that 7.5 million American have now signed up for coverage under the law.
But the technical difficulties surrounding the launch, as well as ongoing concerns about the implementation of the law, hung over her. She leaves just one week after the enrollment period ended, and as a tough midterm election cycle expected to focus heavily on ObamaCare begins.
Republicans quickly made clear that Sebelius’ departure will not temper their criticisms of ObamaCare.
“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. “The next HHS Secretary will inherit a mess — Americans facing rising costs, families losing their doctors, and an economy weighed down by intrusive regulations. No matter who is in charge of HHS, ObamaCare will continue to be a disaster and will continue to hurt hardworking Americans.”
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch said Sebelius “had one of the toughest jobs in Washington” because she had to implement the law, which he said is “flawed” and continues to fall short.
“While we haven’t always agreed, Secretary Sebelius did the best she could during the tumultuous and volatile rollout of the law,” Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised Sebelius’ leadership during the rollout, saying she had “been forceful, effective, and essential.”
“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,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said.
The White House official said Sebelius notified Obama of her decision to leave in early March.
“At that time, Secretary Sebelius told the president that she felt confident in the trajectory for enrollment and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and that she believed that once open enrollment ended it would be the right time to transition the department to new leadership,” the official said, adding the president “is deeply grateful for her service.”
“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,” Manchin said.
Sebelius, having served five years with the president, was among the longest-serving Cabinet secretaries in the administration.
But Sebelius’ relationship with the White House frayed during last fall’s rollout of the insurance exchanges that are at the center of the sweeping overhaul. The president and his top advisers said they were frustrated by what they considered to be a lack of information from HHS over the extent of the website troubles.
The White House sent management expert Jeffrey Zients to oversee a rescue operation that turned things around by the end of November.