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Analysis: Kathleen Sebelius deals with a difficult day at House hearing

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 9:18 PM EDT, Wed October 30, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • As Republicans lob questions at her, Kathleen Sebelius tries to keep cool
  • In 3½ hours, she apologizes and shows exasperation
  • She gives GOP a talking point with "whatever" response to one question

Washington (CNN) -- They smelled blood. And they pounced.

Sebelius: 'I apologize, I'm accountable'

Obamacare is one issue that unites Republicans and any opportunity to disparage the law was not wasted Wednesday as the woman in charge of implementing it, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to explain what is going on with the program's problem-plagued website.

As Republicans lobbed question after question and challenged her credibility and competence, Sebelius held it together, mostly.

I'm sorry

It started with an apology.

Sebelius apologized for HealthCare.gov being a "miserably frustrating experience" and said she is "as frustrated and angry as anyone."

Sebelius: 'Hold me accountable'
Obamacare site down for Sebelius hearing
Sebelius: Website 'frustrating'

"I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems," she said in the first minutes of the 3½-hour grilling.

But it went downhill from there and Sebelius at times grew visibly frustrated.

'I was wrong'

Sebelius didn't sugarcoat the website's problems. She shielded President Barack Obama from responsibility for the faulty enrollment website.

"I told the President that we were ready to go. Clearly I was wrong. We were wrong," she said. "No one ever imagined the volume of issues and problems that we've had and we must fix it."

Crash

Then she did sugarcoat the problem.

"I would suggest the website has never crashed. It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability and has continued to function," she said as a video monitor in the hearing room showed that the website was down.

The Republican National Committee launched an online Web campaign that included an ad with an overweight man lying on the floor saying, "I'm not down. I'm just functioning at a very slow speed."

'Whatever'

"Whatever," was one of her responses during a grilling from Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Mississippi, on whether Obama was responsible for the debacle.

After responding, "Whatever," the secretary put both her hands in the air, briefly, then resumed.

"He is the President. He is responsible for government programs," she concluded.

Exasperated Sebelius to questioner: 'Whatever'

A Republican senator who was not at the hearing, John Cornyn of Texas, put out a statement criticizing the secretary.

" 'Whatever' is hardly a fitting response from a Cabinet-level official being asked legitimate questions about how hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on a botched product that not only doesn't work but is also putting consumers' personal information at risk," Cornyn said.

It then became a GOP talking point.

'Don't do this to me'

During one grilling session in which Sebelius was aggressively asked why she isn't buying her health insurance through the exchanges, a visibly annoyed Sebelius had a "hot mic" moment that has become online fodder.

At the end of an intense questioning session by Rep. Billy Long, R-Missouri, viewers could (barely) hear an audible moment of exasperation when she muttered, "Don't do this to me."

More: 5 things we learned from Sebelius hearing

CNN's Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report

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