Reaching out tonight to the aforementioned aide, and to Republican aides as well, I found unanimous surprise at the step – they learned it from the media, not from trial balloons from the administration. Perhaps this move really was a surprise driven by an attempt on the part of the White House to avoid a Donald Rumsfeld situation, where the embattled Defense Secretary was given a presidential vote of confidence just days prior to the 2006 election, and then had his resignation accepted a week later. Interestingly enough, in Erroll Morris’s The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld himself says he wishes George W. Bush had accepted his resignation two years earlier, in the wake of Abu Ghraib. Perhaps President Obama is learning from his predecessors’ second midterm mistake, or attempting to?
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. By demanding answers before the HHS nomination moves forward and refusing to rubber stamp the president’s pick, Republicans could force more vulnerable Democrats to take a vote that ties them both to the Nuclear Option and Obamacare six months before a critical election.