President Barack Obama’s cabinet is complete just in time for his 100th day in office, now that the Senate has confirmed Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services secretary by a vote of 65 to 31. Senator Chuck Grassley joined most of his Republican colleagues in voting no, citing her ties to George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who performs late-term abortions.
When Obama picked Sebelius I didn’t expect her confirmation to become controversial, since she is a popular Democratic governor in a conservative state. (Both of the Republican senators representing Kansas voted to confirm Sebelius.) However, anti-abortion groups have been fighting the nomination because when asked how much money Dr. Tiller had donated to her, Sebelius initially reported only his contributions to her campaign funds and not his contributions to her political action committee.
For a time Republicans threatened to filibuster Sebelius’s nomination, but they never appeared to have the votes to support a filibuster. Grassley indicated last week that although he opposed Sebelius, he would not have backed a filibuster of her nomination.
Republicans did manage to hold up her confirmation vote for a while. The silver lining behind that obstructionist cloud was that Sebelius remained governor long enough to veto a bill that would have paved the way for two huge coal-burning power plants in Kansas.
Sebelius’s 31 no votes in the Senate make her the second most-controversial Obama cabinet member. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was opposed by 34 senators, including both Grassley and Tom Harkin.
Earlier this year it seemed that Republican opposition would be strongest to Obama’s choice for attorney general, but Eric Holder drew only 21 no votes in the Senate. Grassley voted to confirm Holder despite some doubts, saying he was influenced by his (then Republican) colleague Arlen Specter.
Grassley also voted for the fourth most controversial Obama nominee, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. Seventeen Republican senators voted against her confirmation.