Kathleen Sebelius and the limits of hunkering down

Will President Obama sack Kathleen Sebelius? She certainly deserves the sack, given the massive technical problems that have plagued the rollout of the health care exchanges.

I doubt that Obama will let her go, however. Even more so than other administrations, Team Obama believes in hunkering down in situations like this. That’s the primary reason why Eric Holder is still Attorney General.

Jim Manley, formerly Harry Reid’s top henchman, provides a perfect reflection of the administration’s mentality when he says, “if the administration were to scapegoat someone, that would just further inflame the right.”

In short, it’s not about having highly competent people in key positions or about accountability for poor performance. The touchstone is always, how will the decision affect our opponents.

Politico has an alternative theory for why Sebelius probably will survive. In its view:

White House and Democrats on the Hill know a potential confirmation fight would be so torturous and difficult that they’re better off sticking with the Health and Human Services secretary they’ve got, despite all that’s gone wrong on her watch.

Jim Manley claims that no one Obama could pick — “not even the Lord himself” — would be confirmed. This is nonsense even by standards of a partisan hack like Manley. The Senate, which Democrats control, has not blocked any of Obama’s controversial cabinet appointees. Even hardline leftist ideologue Tom Perez was confirmed for a sub-cabinet position.

A group of Republican Senators believes that the president has an almost absolute right to pick his own cabinet. These Senators have routinely supplied the votes needed to confirm Obama’s selections. It is silly to suppose that Republicans would be able to block anyone nominated to succeed Sebelius other than, perhaps, a raving left-wing ideologue or a convicted felon.

Although he provides a forum for Manley’s drivel, Politico writer Edward-Issac Dovere does not adopt it. His view is that Sebelius won’t be replaced because Republicans would use the confirmation hearings would to “relitigate the Affordable Care Act — to subpoena reams of information, chase headline-grabbing leads and, overall, do whatever they could to delay or derail it.”

Dovere’s theory is dubious. Because Democrats control the Senate, there are limits to what Republicans can accomplish in hearings. A hearing involving a nominee who has had nothing to do with the design or implementation of Obamacare would prove a poor vehicle for “relitigating” that Act. Hearings involving Sebelius will serve that purpose better.

So again, this looks like a simple case of hunkering down. But when the person in charge of implementing the defining legislation of the Obama administration — legislation that depends on a certain level of public participation — becomes a source of ridicule and derision, the limits of the hunkering down strategy are probably reached.


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