The Senate confirmed Sylvia Burwell as the Obama administration’s next secretary of Health and Human Services, in a 78-17 vote that split Republicans nearly in half.
Burwell’s confirmation was never in doubt, as the Senate only needed a simple majority to approve her, and Democrats have a majority in the upper chamber. But many Republicans were expected to support her given her unanimous Senate confirmation to become the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
In the final tally, 24 Republicans voted for her, and some cited her overall competence and ability to run one of the larger federal departments.
“The nominee we are voting on today will have my support,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). “I like her from a personal standpoint, I think she’s competent, I think she’s able to do the job that’s before her.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also said he would vote for Burwell’s confirmation.
A total of 17 Republicans voted against her, although some said their vote was a protest against the implementation of Obamacare and not a vote against the nominee. In the morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate should be focusing on repeal of the law, and not changing out leadership at the top.
“Her embrace of this disastrous law is reason enough to oppose her confirmation,” he said.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) indicated he likes Burwell personally, but said her failure to control the debt while at OMB, and her lack of qualifications to run HHS, mean he had to vote against her.
“I take no pleasure in opposing her nomination, but she lacks the background necessary to assume responsibility for this important agency,” Sessions said.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was another “no” vote, and said he was disappointed that Burwell didn’t offer Congress more of an olive branch when it comes to implementing Obamacare.
“[B]ecause of ignoring the law, because of amending the law over and over by administrative fiat, I have to oppose Ms. Burwell’s nomination,” Vitter said. “She gave no indication in any of her testimony, in any of her discussions leading up to this confirmation vote, that she would change any of that.”
Aside from McConnell, Sessions and Vitter, other Republicans voting against Burwell were Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dean Heller (Nev.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.), James Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Jon Thune (S.D.).