Saturday, February 28, 2009

With HHS Pick, "Armageddon" Has Arrived

Late this Saturday afternoon, word hit the wire that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -- a pro-choice Catholic exhorted to refrain from the Eucharist in her home diocese -- accepted President Obama's offer to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services:

Ms. Sebelius... will be introduced by Mr. Obama at the White House on Monday, said administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the formal announcement. The selection comes just days before Mr. Obama hosts a health care summit meeting at the White House.

Ms. Sebelius became one of Mr. Obama’s most valued allies when she endorsed him early in the presidential nomination battle. She has been discussed for a variety of positions, including vice president and other cabinet jobs. A two-term state insurance commissioner and second-term Democratic governor in a reliably Republican state, Ms. Sebelius has a reputation for bipartisanship.

“She is one of the nation’s best and most respected governors,” a senior administration official said in explaining Mr. Obama’s decision. “As a former state insurance commissioner, she has a real depth on health care. And she has a history of working across party lines.”

In selecting Ms. Sebelius, Mr. Obama has decided to risk running headlong into the nation’s volatile abortion wars. Since Ms. Sebelius’s name emerged as a leading candidate for the health job, anti-abortion groups have assailed her record and vowed to fight her confirmation.
And within the walls, that sound you hear is a firestorm -- or, as a prior post termed it, "Armageddon."

While the second-term chief executive has been panned by the church's anti-abortion base, taking its lead from the nominee-in-waiting's ordinary, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City (who publicly advised Obama against picking Sebelius as his running mate during the summer "Veepstakes") the Democratic-leaning lobbies in the pews are already pushing hard to drum up support for the pick, running talking points touting the governor's "pro-life" credentials onto the street within minutes of the leak's emergence.

Having vetoed a bill that would've restricted late-term abortions in Jayhawk Country last April -- which move earned her Naumann's "pastoral action" -- on Sebelius' plate in Washington (pending the requisite Senate confirmation) will be two conflicting items of high note vis a vis abortion policy: the administration's agenda for a "pragmatic" approach to abortion reduction, and the freshly-announced rollback of the Bush administration's conscience protection norms for healthcare providers, whose retention was a central plea of the January letter to the then President-elect from the USCCB president Cardinal Francis George.