By Justin Sink - 04/11/14 11:25 AM EDT
President Obama declared embattled Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius would “go down in history” at a Rose Garden ceremony on Friday announcing her resignation.
The president acknowledged that Sebelius had collected “bumps” and “bruises” from the botched rollout of his signature healthcare law.
“Yes, we lost the first quarter of open enrollment period with the problems with healthcare.gov, and they were problems,” Obama said. “But under Kathleen's leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself.”
Obama also announced that Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, would be his choice to replace Sebelius.
Obama heralded Burwell as “a proven manager” who “knows how to deliver results,” and said she would be ideally suited for the work remaining in the implementation of ObamaCare.
Burwell is no stranger to controversy. She helped oversee the shutdown of the federal government after lawmakers were unable to strike a budget agreement last fall, and Obama heralded her role helping to negotiate a subsequent package to keep the government funded over the next two years.
Sebelius’s future at HHS seemed in doubt last fall after the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.Gov website.
Users were unable to sign up for plans and the administration’s enrollment figures were paltry for months.
But on Thursday, Sebelius announced that 7.5 million individuals had signed up for coverage through the ObamaCare exchanges, despite the early struggles.
That surpassed the 7 million goal she said would define a “success,” and allows her to leave her post with the ability to declare victory.
Indeed, the resignation announcement took on an air of celebration, with Cabinet secretaries and White House senior staff repeatedly rising to their feet to applaud the outgoing secretary — and the unexpected rebound of the president's signature law.
Sebelius said she knew reform “wouldn't be easy.”
“There's a reason no earlier president was successful in passing health reform,” Sebelius said.
But ultimately she called her efforts on ObamaCare “the most meaningful work I've ever been a part of” and bragged that "critics and supporters alike were benefitting from this law."
Those critics have already seized on Sebelius's resignation to launch a new wave of attacks.
Republican legislators have said they want to make ObamaCare the central issue of the 2014 midterm campaigns, and argued the secretary's rocky tenure underscores the extent to which the law is unworkable.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said that the country “will be dealing with the repercussions of the president's health law for a very long time.”
“Regardless of the administration’s public explanation for the Secretary’s exit, Obamacare has been a rolling disaster and her resignation is cold comfort to the millions of Americans who were deceived about what it would mean for them and their families,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
And there's already some suggestion that Republicans will use Burwell's confirmation hearings as an opportunity to highlight their concerns with the law. While her confirmation seems assured thanks to the Democratic majority in the upper chamber, Obama called on lawmakers to act “without delay.”
“Last time, she was confirmed unanimously. I'm assuming not that much has changed since that time,” Obama said.
Sebelius’s departure also didn’t avoid one last glitch.
A page of her speech was missing on Friday, and forced her to ad-lib some remarks.
This story was updated at 12:09 p.m.