Three potential Republican presidential contenders in the Senate voted against the confirmation of Sylvia Mathews Burwell as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday.


Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) all voted against Burwell’s confirmation, along with 14 other senators, some of whom are facing tough reelection fights this cycle and next.

They broke with the majority of the chamber in opposing Burwell, who was ultimately confirmed on a 78-17 vote. More than 20 Republicans joined Democrats to support her to replace Kathleen Sebelius.

Votes to confirm Burwell’s predecessor had been used by some candidates this election cycle as political weapons against their opponents. 

In Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts’s (R) primary challenger, Milton Wolf, attacked Roberts for voting to confirm Sebelius and suggested he should be held partially accountable for the failures of ObamaCare, the implementation of which Sebelius oversaw.

Roberts on Thursday voted against Burwell.

Other GOP senators facing nominal primary challenges split on the vote. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) voted to confirm Burwell, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) voted against her.

The Republicans facing tough reelection fights in 2016 also split. Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) all voted against her, while Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) voted for her.

While Burwell received widespread praise from Republicans, some used the vote as a symbolic opportunity to express their opposition to ObamaCare.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who recently emerged victorious from a conservative primary challenge, said prior to the vote that he took issue with the law.

“She’ll be the chief operating officer of ObamaCare implementation, a law that’s doing incredible damage to middle-class families in this country,” McConnell said.

He added: “In my view the Senate shouldn’t be focusing on a new captain for the Titanic. It should focus on steering away from the iceberg.” 

Cameron Joseph contributed to this post.