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Obama Nominates Kathleen Sebelius for Health Secretary

This afternoon, President Obama will officially tap Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius as his next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is Obama’s second choice for the position, after Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination under fire for his failure to pay taxes and his insistence on wearing those circular red glasses all the time. Daschle was supposed to head up health-care reform in addition to HHS, a dual role Sebelius isn’t expected to hold, though as a governor and former insurance commissioner, she does have a fair amount of experience dealing with health care. Although Obama was obviously always going to appoint a pro-choice Health secretary, pro-life groups are nonetheless passionately opposed to Sebelius, and are gearing up for a fight.

• Jonathan Cohn says that Obama took so long to appoint Sebelius because “the administration was weighing the pros and cons of a fight over abortion rights — and then preparing to fight it.” As governor of Kansas, Sebelius has been in “direct conflict with some of the country’s staunchest social conservatives,” and she’s riled them by vetoing “restrictions on late-term abortions.” This may not come into play during her confirmation, but if it does, it’s more likely that “voters, who generally favor … abortion rights, will see the controversy as a distraction from more pressing business and hold the right responsible.” But since voters “tend to oppose late-term abortions,” they could also blame Obama “for putting forward a nominee that’s out of step with their values or simply too polarizing.” [Treatment/New Republic]

• David Brody, however, believes that the support Sebelius is receiving from pro-life Kansas senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts is “a blow considering Brownback is a major friend to groups like Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, etc.” This may be “the ‘cover’ she needs.” [Brody File/CBN]

• Ben Smith similarly calls the support of Kansas’ senators a “setback to the attempt to rally conservative Catholics against” Sebelius. [Politico]

• Ben Pershing doesn’t expect her nomination to “face serious trouble — assuming, as we are now hesitant to do, that she’s always paid her taxes — but her positions on abortion are likely to draw some scrutiny and complaints from Senate conservatives.” [Rundown/WP]

• Steve Benen calls Sebelius “a fine pick who will likely be easily confirmed. She’s known for her strong managerial skills, has broad credibility with both parties, and has a background on healthcare that will no doubt serve her well.” And it’s unlikely that her support of abortion rights will “have any kind of impact.” [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• Chuck Todd and friends expect “the pro-life community to start test-driving some of its abortion messages on this confirmation hearing as a prelude to the fight over Obama’s first [Supreme Court] nomination.” [First Read/MSNBC]

• Ezra Klein says Sebelius is “broadly respected for her political and managerial accomplishments in a red state,” but he points out as a caveat that, while there are plenty of people who could have “served admirably at HHS,” Sebelius is probably the only one who “could turn Kansas’s 2010 Senate election into a Democratic pick-up opportunity.” [American Prospect]

• Karen Tumulty writes that Sebelius “brings to the post a deep understanding of the subject matter that comes not only from her gubernatorial tenure — in most states, Medicaid is the biggest item in the budget outside of education — but from a previous stint serving two terms as Kansas’ insurance commissioner.” While Sebelius won’t be leading the charge on health-care reform as Daschle would have, her “primary role … will come in helping win votes and in selling the public on whatever plan emerges.” [Swampland/Time]

• Denis Boyles believes Sebelius’s qualifications are pretty thin. [Corner/National Review]

• Kevin Sack notes that Sebelius may have a “wonkish understanding of health policy, but she has failed to make significant improvements in health coverage or costs during her two terms as governor.” [NYT]

Obama Nominates Kathleen Sebelius for Health Secretary