Kathleen Sebelius has been the Secretary of Health and Human Services since 2009, but most Americans just learned her name in the past week, because a lot of people blame her for Healthcare.gov's mounting problems. Even Jon Stewart, a supporter of the Obamacare, took Sebelius to task when she visited the Daily Show last week (“I’m gonna try and download every movie ever made, and you’re gonna try to sign up for Obamacare, and we’ll see which happens first”). Conservatives say she should be fired.
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Sebelius last night, and her performance didn't make up for her floundering Daily Show appearance. Sebelius revealed that President Obama had no idea about the problems with Healthcare.gov until "the first couple of days" after the site went live on October 1. She dodged questions about whether or not she'd resign and how long people will have to wait for a fully functioning website. "More people are having an easier time," she said, "and we intend to stay at this until we open the doors wide open."
Republicans intend to continue pushing for her firing. House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan began his own anti-Sebelius campaign yesterday, when he revealed in a letter that the secretary has "stonewalled" his committee and refused repeated requests for information and to testify in front of the committee. “Your continued silence on these important inquiries after refusing to testify raises serious questions about the administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability,” Ryan wrote. An HHS spokeswoman responded by explaining that Sebelius was unavailable to testify on the September date that Ryan's committee had requested.
It was Sebelius' old family friend, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who first called for her to resign. He explicitly stated last week, "We need new leadership." At the time, Sebelius' sister and brother told The New York Times that the Secretary has no plans to resign, and that Obama has full confidence in her.
Sebelius posted a blog to the HHS website last night, touting the so-called "tech surge" her department is employing to fix problems in Healthcare.gov's code. Again, she did not offer any kind of timetable for when the fixes will be complete, only that "we won’t stop until every American who wants it gains access to these new options for care."
Perhaps most damaging is the suggestion that Sebelius doesn't have the capacity to fix Obamacare's problems herself. An anonymous source "close to Ms. Sebelius and the White House" cast doubt on Sebelius' authority on Tuesday, telling the Times:
"Kathleen has the title, but she doesn’t have the responsibility or in many respects the kind of wide authority and access to the president that she really needs to make a difference. Everybody thinks that she’s the driving force, but unfortunately she’s not."
Stewart told Sebelius on the Daily Show, "It's frustrating to have to defend something that is less than ideal, or is functioning at what seems to be a level of incompetence that is larger than what it should be." The secretary didn't have an answer to that statement, but surely she knows it's true.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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