WASHINGTON (AP) - Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius won Senate
confirmation Tuesday as the nation's health and human services
secretary, thrusting her into the middle of a public health
emergency with the swine flu sickening dozens of Americans.
The 65-31 confirmation vote came after Democrats urged quick
action so that Sebelius could get to work leading the federal
response to the flu outbreak.
"We find ourselves in the midst of a global crisis," said Sen.
Chris Dodd, D-Conn. "What we've been missing in all of this is the
head of the Health and Human Services Department."
Sixty votes in the 100-seat Senate were necessary for approval.
Immediately after the vote Sebelius resigned as governor in Kansas
and headed to Washington to be sworn in. She drove directly from
Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to the White House, where she
took her oath in the Oval Office.
"We wanted to swear her in right away because we've got a
significant public health challenge that requires her immediate
attention," Obama said, standing beside the last Cabinet official
to win Senate approval.
"We needs all hands on deck," he said. "I expect her to hit
the ground running,"
Sebelius immediately went to the White House's Situation Room
for a briefing with Obama's homeland security adviser, John
Brennan, and other officials dealing with the first domestic test
of the administration, which turns 100 days old on Wednesday.
Replacing Sebelius as the state's chief executive was the
lieutenant governor, Mark Parkinson, 51, a former Republican
lawmaker and state party chairman Sebelius had persuaded to be her
running mate in 2006. Parkinson has said he plans no major policy
or staff changes and wouldn't run for a full term next year.
Republican opponents cited Sebelius' pro-abortion stances and
her initial underreporting of campaign contributions from a
late-term abortion doctor. They raised concerns about whether Obama
administration plans to overhaul the nation's health system would
cut out Republicans and lead to rationing of care.
"She is the wrong appointee for this particular assignment,"
said Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. "She has backed a partisan
process for health care reform. She has refused to support patient
With no HHS secretary in place, the White House has turned to
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to help lead its
response to the swine flu, even while insisting that vacancies at
the top of HHS were not a problem.
Sebelius, 60, a two-term Democrat, was the first of 20 HHS
officials requiring Senate approval to win it, and she heads to
work with many team members missing. The Senate hasn't acted on
Obama's nominees for deputy HHS secretary or commissioner of the
Food and Drug Administration, and Obama hasn't even nominated
people for other key jobs, including surgeon general and assistant
secretary for preparedness and response.
There's also not been an appointment for head of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, another component of the sprawling
HHS, which has 65,000 employees and a $750 billion budget.
The whole process suffered a setback when Obama's first pick for
HHS secretary, former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, withdrew in
February over unpaid taxes.
Though the swine flu will be an immediate focus, Sebelius will
also be charged with shepherding Obama's overhaul of the nation's
$2.5 trillion health care system to reduce costs and cover some 50
million uninsured Americans.