On one side, Team “Mission Accomplished”:
Obvious: Waited till now to boot/go since new data makes 'failure' meme so difficult to sustain.
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 10, 2014
Kathleen Sebelius is resigning because Obamacare has won http://t.co/GYi8z0ItLj
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) April 10, 2014
Ezra earned himself a retweet from the White House for that one, a nice reward for his new propaganda shop at Vox. On the other side, Rachel Maddow, who’s also keen to declare “Mission Accomplished” but doesn’t understand why the coach would be fired halfway through the victory parade. She also doesn’t see why, if Sebelius had been planning to quit for the past month (as the NYT claimed yesterday), she told HuffPo just last week that she’d be sticking around until November. Hmmmm.
I’m with Ben Domenech on this. Advantage: Maddow.
About a month ago, in a conversation with a Senate Democratic aide, the topic of Sebelius – “Auntie K” – came up. The assumption was shared that there was no way Sebelius would be leaving HHS prior to the November midterm elections – indeed, the aide claimed that her position was essentially unassailable given the negative attention her resignation or firing would draw. And besides, any nomination fight, no matter who the nominee is, would quickly become an opportunity for Republican Senators to pile on while Democratic Senators were put in an awkward position. No, the conventional wisdom said Sebelius would stay, at least til November 2014…
In any case, it appears that this resignation presents Republicans with a golden opportunity to reignite their crusade against Obamacare with Sylvia Burwell’s nomination as a proxy for all the problems with the law. Burwell is a political loyalist and a veteran of the shutdown fight with no record on health care, and will likely be coached to avoid answering questions about specific challenges with implementation at HHS. Senate Republicans actually have an advantage here in the wake of the Nuclear Option’s implementation: they can easily come up with a list of facts they claim the administration has hidden, details kicked aside, statutes ignored, and a host of other challenging questions on accountability over the implementation (and non-implementation) of the law. A list of every question Sebelius has dodged over the past several years would suffice.
Yeah, dumping Sebelius now for reasons of optics makes no sense to me. Normally I’d guess that the White House figured it was better to shed the albatross now, let the GOP go bombs away on O-Care at the Burwell hearing, and hope that nothing too damaging comes out, but I’m not convinced that Sebelius was that much of an albatross. People who follow politics day to day know who she is but I’ll bet most casual voters couldn’t pick her out of a line-up. For midterm attack-ad purposes, Obama himself will serve as the face of O-Care, not the director of HHS. So if they wanted her out, given the few benefits and many potential costs per Domenech of having a big congressional referendum on ObamaCare next month, it must be because they really didn’t trust her management abilities anymore and wanted someone more competent in ASAP as they transition to “phase two” of implementation. If that meant dumping a bad coach in the middle of a victory parade, fine. There are, after all, more “games” left to be played before O-Care’s fate is sealed, starting with the 2015 premium rates this fall. That’s one way in which the White House parts company with Klein, Marshall, and Maddow — the latter really do seem to think (or, perhaps, want the public to think) that hitting seven million “sign-ups,” however that term’s being defined these days, means winning the Super Bowl. If this is final victory, then dumping Sebelius a week or two afterward seems bizarre. If it isn’t, not so much.
Update: Right after I hit “publish,” Obama uncorked this at the White House ceremony for Sebelius this morning:
Obama on ACA: “the final score speaks for itself”
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) April 11, 2014
He wants the public to think the game’s over, but bringing in a new coach suggests otherwise.