Skip to main content

Sebelius out, Obama nominates new health secretary

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 8:02 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama taps OMB director to head up health agency
  • Sylvia Mathews Burwell is the director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • She was responsible for sending out the shutdown order to federal agencies last fall
  • Burwell has a long history with the Clintons and in Washington
Sebelius resigns, replacement nominated

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama announced Friday that he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who currently directs the White House budget office, to be the next health secretary, the Cabinet official who's ultimately responsible for overseeing Obamacare.

Obama praised the outgoing secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, saying at a Rose Garden ceremony that she would "go down in history" for serving when the United States "finally declared that quality, affordable health care" would be a right for every U.S. citizen.

"I will miss her advice. I will miss her friendship," Obama said. "I will miss her wit."

WH: Kathleen Sebelius to resign

Her departure is not without controversy although her tenure will conclude more positively with the Obama administration riding high over the initial enrollment success of the politically charged health law.

Obama acknowledged the early problems with the government's HealthCare.gov website last fall, which was an enormously tumultuous period for Sebelius.

But Obama followed up by saying that "her team" turned the corner and "got it fixed, got the job done" in carrying out the sign-up period from October through March. "The final score speaks for itself," Obama said with 7.5 million people signed up for health coverage.

The Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature domestic achievement, aims to provide insurance for millions of Americans without it.

Burwell is also no stranger to making tough calls.

As director of the Office of Management and Budget for the past year, Burwell was at the center of last fall's budget drama during which she was responsible for sending out the shutdown order for federal agencies.

During the ceremony, Obama touted Burwell skills as someone who can handle tough challenges.

"Sylvia is a proven manager, and she knows how to deliver results," he said. "And she'll need to be a proven manager because these are tough tasks, big challenges."

She also has a history in Washington circles that extends beyond her current position. She was a budget and campaign official for Bill Clinton.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, she inherits an agency heavily criticized for implementing the health law.

Sebelius' tenure coincided with passage of the 2010 law with no Republican support. The political turmoil around its passage and its rocky rollout has become a rallying cry for the GOP heading into next fall's midterms where control of the Senate is at stake.

But the website's performance did improve significantly as the year turned, quieting early calls from Republicans for her to step down.

This month, in a letter to department employees, Sebelius reflected on Obamacare sign ups exceeding its target of 7 million as evidence of "the progress we've made, together," while stating that "our work is far from over."

"I know that this law has been at the center of much debate and discourse in Washington, but what this enrollment demonstrates is that the Affordable Care Act is working and much needed," she said in the note.

Obamacare hits 7.5 million sign-ups, Sebelius says

Burwell, 48, has already been through Senate confirmation for her job at the White House, but will need to go through that again for the health appointment. Her nomination will likely face tough questions from Republicans.

"You can expect a robust discussion, both at the hearing and on the floor, on Obamacare and its consequences," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

She came to the White House from her spot atop the Walmart Foundation, the giant retail chain's charitable organization that, according to its website, donated nearly $1 billion to causes worldwide in 2011.

Before that, Burwell worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the Clinton administration, she worked under then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

States work with Obamacare to help undocumented immigrants

CNN's Jim Acosta and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
On Tuesday, two U.S. appeals courts issued conflicting rulings on a subject that's important to millions of people: the availability of subsidies to help purchase coverage under the health-care law.
updated 10:06 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
It was a tale of two rulings -- the best of times and the worst of times for Obamacare in the federal appeals courts.
updated 6:00 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
President Barack Obama's poll numbers are nothing to brag about, but there's little evidence he has suffered so far this year a "Katrina moment" that caused his predecessor's numbers to plummet.
updated 6:00 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
More than half the public says Obamacare has helped either their families or others across the country, although less than one in five Americans say they have personally benefited from the health care law, according to a new national poll.
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
House Republicans are going forward with plans to sue President Barack Obama and will base their legal case on the sweeping health care law he championed and they despise.
updated 4:13 PM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
They tried in Congress, at the ballot box and in the Supreme Court, but Republicans have been unable to stop Obamacare.
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The Supreme Court's decision was "sweeping," a "huge blow to the Obama administration," and a "shot in the arm for the evangelical movement," analysts said.
updated 7:45 PM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
The ruling gives certain companies a right to raise religious objections to providing some types of birth control insurance to their employees leaves a number of important questions in its wake.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Tue October 29, 2013
Nationally, consumers are learning a number of well-known hospitals won't accept insurance under Obamacare.
updated 1:16 PM EST, Mon December 23, 2013
Open enrollment started October 1. Here's a step-by-step guide to navigating the insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges.
updated 4:37 AM EDT, Sat October 19, 2013
Obamacare has survived a Supreme Court appeal, a government shutdown and ongoing challenges by opposing politicians. With few exceptions, every American must have health insurance by March 31 or pay a penalty fee.
updated 10:44 AM EDT, Thu September 26, 2013
If you don't know what all those health insurance buzz-words like "co-pay" and "premium" mean, you're not alone.
updated 11:57 AM EDT, Wed October 2, 2013
Lauren Zanardelli and Graham Foster are the kind of customers the government needs to make Obamacare work.
It's a popular assertion, but is it true? The CNN Politics team hunts down the facts.
Some may offer help navigating the new health insurance marketplace for a fee. Others will warn that you will need a new Medicare card.
updated 12:57 PM EDT, Mon September 30, 2013
Who's in, who's out... and what about the costs? CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta breaks down Obamacare.
Consumers can avoid the exchanges by buying plans directly from insurers or through brokers. But should they?
Here's the first look at insurance premiums on 36 exchanges run by the federal government.
updated 10:46 AM EDT, Wed September 25, 2013
If we want to be realistic about health care reform, we have to acknowledge that everything comes with a tradeoff, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll says.
Check out our page with all things you need to know about Obamacare and how it will affect you.
ADVERTISEMENT