Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke out on Sunday for the first time following the announcement that she would step down, and maintained that she alone decided to leave the post.
Sebelius’ comments came during an appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
"I made a decision at the election that I couldn’t leave, along with a lot of my colleagues who left at the end of the first term," Sebelius said. "That did not seem to be even a topic to consider since there was still one more chapter in this Affordable Care Act that needed to roll out and that had been one of my responsibilities as the secretary of Health and Human Services, so staying on made good sense to me. I also thought that at the end of open enrollment was a logical time to leave."
"The president and I began to talk after the first of the year and I went back to him in early March and said, ‘you know, I’m really optimistic we’re going to meet the targets. The enrollment is going well. The site is working well. I think once we finish this first chapter you really should begin to look for the next secretary who can be here through the end of your term.’ And that really wasn’t a commitment I was willing to make, and he knew that," she said.
"She’s accomplished what she had to accomplish," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) on CBS’ "Face the Nation."
"She set a goal of seven million people signed up for private healthcare," he said. "She got 7.5 million. Three million others expanded Medicaid. She’s accomplished a lot in regards to health care disparities, women’s health."
Republicans maintain that Sebelius’ resignation reflects poorly on the law and hinted that her replacement would not have an easy confirmation.
"It’s not going to quit the controversy," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) said on "Face the Nation." "I think it’s quite the opposite. What it’s done is to elevate some of the concerns."
President Barack Obama announced that the Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the current White House budget director, would be his pick to replace Sebelius. Republicans expressed skepticism at the appointment.
"Burwell is an interesting choice," Blackburn said. "They know they’ve got a math problem with Obamacare and the numbers are not going to work out so … they’re going to have to have somebody to kind of spin the numbers, and this is something with Burwell coming from OMB, I think they’re expecting her to be able to do for them."
Burwell was confirmed as budget director with unanimous consent. When asked if he would vote against her this time, Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) told "Fox News Sunday," "There’s no doubt she was a good choice for OMB. That does not necessarily make her a good choice for HHS."
Scott said he would not vote against her simply because he dislikes the health care law.
"The question that we have to get to, however, is whether or not Director Burwell will be serving for the president … with his agenda as the primary objective, or will she get into the details of the [enrollment] numbers."
News broke early Sunday morning that Ukrainian security forces announced that they "launched an operation on Sunday to clear pro-Russian separatists from a police headquarters in the eastern city of Slaviansk." The announcement came a day after armed militants seized government buildings. U.S. officials say those militants are wearing the "very same uniforms and guns that Russian forces had when they annexed Crimea last month," according to ABC.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) told "Face the Nation" that what’s occurring in Slaviansk is "predictable" and a result of the U.S. failure to "enact anything really meaningful or important" when Putin invaded and annexed Crimea.
McCain said Putin is "without a doubt" behind this "even though he would, with a straight face, tell the world’s press that it was people who bought uniforms and went into Crimea."
UN Ambassador Samantha Powers similarly told ABC’s "This Week," "It has all the telltale signs of what we saw in Crimea. It’s professional. It’s coordinated. There’s nothing grassroots seeming about it. The forces are doing—in each the six of seven cities that they’ve been active in—exactly the same thing, so certainly it bears the telltale signs of Moscow’s involvement."
Powers maintained U.S. sanctions to date have been working, bringing the "ruble to an all time low" and causing the Russian stock market to "depreciate by 20 percent."
"I think we’ve seen that the sanctions can bite and if actions like the kind that we’ve seen over the last few days continue you’re going to see a ramping up of those sanctions," Powers said.
McCain contented that the United States needed to act with "firmness and strength, including beginning … with giving Ukrainians some weapons to defend themselves and some very severe sanctions that may cost our European friends and us some financially in the short term."
"[Putin’s] actions will be gauged by our reactions, but he’s obviously with all his troops amassed there keeping those options opened and for us to keep talking about off-ramps—right now he’s going full speed down the freeway and there is no tangible evidence of him having to pay a significant penalty."