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Just Inside 100 Days, Sebelius Completes the Cabinet

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President Obama's Cabinet was finally filled yesterday after the Senate, on the eve of President Obama's 100th day in office, voted 65 to 31 to confirm Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Hours later, the former Kansas governor was sworn in in an Oval Office ceremony.

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Democrats had sought a quick vote on Sebelius as Congress moves ahead with health-care reform this summer, but Republicans slowed her advancement because of her support for abortion rights. But GOP procedural objections faded with the recent outbreak of swine flu and the threat of a global pandemic, our colleague Shailagh Murray reported from the Senate.

Sebelius, an early Obama supporter and term-limited two-term governor, had been courted by Democratic leaders to run next year for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sam Brownback. But Sebelius accepted the HHS post after former senator Thomas A. Daschle withdrew from consideration following questions about his tax returns.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.), who is leading the Senate's health-care reform effort, cited Sebelius's success in a Republican state as vital experience to building support for the legislation across party lines. "Governor Sebelius's record shows that she approaches problems from all sides," Baucus said on the Senate floor.

But Republicans criticized her record on abortion and her campaign contributions from a Wichita doctor who performs the procedure.

Brownback, an ardent opponent of abortion rights, supported Sebelius's nomination, as did Sen. Arlen Specter (now-D-Pa.).

A SLOWER SHADE OF FAST

The 100-day numbers are in. As expected, Obama, with 102 nominations pending before the Senate and 65 officials confirmed, has far outpaced his modern predecessors back to Ronald Reagan in terms of overall appointment activity. Obama nearly beat the Reagan juggernaut in terms of confirmed nominees, though the Reagan White House still holds the record at 73 appointees confirmed, according to the White House Transition Project.

For a complete, interactive look at Obama's appointees, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/headcount.

The White House decided not to put out its own comparisons with prior administrations, we were told. There are, aside from the unseemliness of gloating, some good reasons not to do that.

For one thing, you inevitably compare what are often very different situations -- some dictated by outside circumstances, some self-inflicted.

For example, Reagan was the first president to grapple with the 1978 amendments to the Ethics in Government Act that created the time-consuming, redundant financial disclosure process. Bill Clinton ran a chaotic transition, including the ill-fated Zoe Baird nomination for attorney general, and had to deal with 1989 ethics changes that greatly expanded the vetting process. One willful mistake on the forms -- see, for example, former Cabinet member Henry Cisneros -- can get you prosecuted.

George W. Bush had the long recount, which cut his transition by five weeks. Obama had the Daschle-Geithner miscues, which stalled his nominations process by a good three weeks and led to a Cabinet not filled until yesterday.


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