President Obama Officially Nominates Budget Chief as Next HHS Secretary

Susan Walsh/AP

President Obama took another health care victory lap Friday while announcing the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Obama praised Sebelius in a Rose Garden address, as he formally nominated budget chief Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next HHS secretary.

Sebelius led HHS through the implementation of the president's signature health law, and faced tough criticism after the online portal to sign up for the new health plans struggled to get off the ground last fall.

But the atmosphere Friday was celebratory of Sebelius's time in office, and the president touted her success in turning around HealthCare.gov and getting 7.5 million people signed up for coverage.

"Yes, we lost the first quarter of the open enrollment period because of the problems with HealthCare.gov—and they were problems. But under Kathleen's leadership, her team and HHS turned the corner.… The final score speaks for itself," Obama said.

Sebelius said she was proud of the "tremendous progress" the department has made despite the legal and legislative battles the law has faced over the past four years.

"I got to be a leader of HHS during these most historic times," Sebelius said. "We are on the front lines of a long overdue national change, fixing a broken health system.

"I knew it wouldn't be easy. There's a reason that no earlier president was successful in passing health reform."

Burwell is inheriting the department as challenges remain heading into the law's second year. Some consumers are still trying to get signed up, and HealthCare.gov isn't out of the red, with some repairs remaining.

The White House has expressed confidence in Burwell as a manager and leader to take the helm during the health law's next phase. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in an interview with The New York Times that the president selected Burwell because she is "a proven manager and relentless implementer." Burwell has served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget for a year.

Sebelius is expected to remain with the department during the transition period. Burwell must be confirmed by a majority vote in the Senate, which departs today for spring recess and is not scheduled to return until April 28.

It's unclear whether Burwell will face strong opposition from Republicans, who have had issues with several other nominees this year.

But Burwell sailed through the Senate last year on a 96-0 vote to become head of OMB, and she has already received the support of some conservative senators, such as  Republican John McCain of Arizona, who tweeted his congratulations following reports late Thursday that she was the president's next pick.

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