WASHINGTON -The Senate approved the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services, filling the final seat in President Barack Obama's Cabinet on the eve of his 100th day in office.
Democrats had sought a quick vote on the Kansas governor as Congress moves ahead with health care reform this summer, but Republicans slowed Sebelius' advancement because of her record in favor of abortion rights. GOP procedural objections faded with the recent outbreak of swine flu and the threat of a global pandemic. Sebelius was confirmed in a 65-31 vote Tuesday afternoon.
"It is essential for the health of the nation that President Obama has in place - and the nation has in place - a strong secretary of HHS to make sure our federal efforts on this potential pandemic are able to coordinate," said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat.
Sebelius, 60, was a prominent early Obama supporter who was elected twice in a conservative heartland state. The Kansas Democrat accepted the HHS post after former Sen. Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, withdrew from consideration over questions about his tax returns.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and leader of the Senate's health care reform effort, cited Sebelius' success in a Republican state as vital experience to building support for the legislation across party lines.
But Republicans criticized the governor's support for abortion rights and her ties to a Wichita doctor who performs abortions and who has contributed to her political campaigns. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, called Sebelius' record on the issue "a fatal character flaw that should have disqualified her" from the HHS job.