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Saturn Smith
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FEBRUARY 28, 2009 11:21PM

The So-Called Sebelius Fight

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The nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to Health and Human Services seems pretty official -- the New York Times reports she's accepted the nomination, and though it's sourced anonymously, it's supported by the head of the Democratic Governor's Association sending out congratulations (and by Claire McCaskill tweeting about it?  OK, probably not a real confidence builder).

By Hometown Invasion Tour -- CC license, via Flickr

It's been at least a week since Sebelius's name floated to the top of the pool; one assumes there's been a substantial amount of vetting since then, and between the administration and the press corps, nothing has popped up.  So this should be an easy confirmation, right?  Just a quick breeze through a committee ready to get started on the president's plan.

I still think it will be, but that doesn't mean some folks aren't going to have some fun with this, anyway.

Ben Smith at Politico has a piece up called, "Catholics gird for Sebelius fight."  He says, to start, "Kathleen Sebelius's nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services has triggered a bit of a battle between the traditional Catholic right and the newly energized Catholic left."

Only, here's the thing: there's not really a likely fight.  The Catholics United group that Smith cites is, as he says, a pro-life Catholic group that just launched the Web site Catholics for Sebelius (who is, herself, Catholic) today, as a pre-emptive strike against any "right-wing organizations" that might attack her.

Now, he also cites a February 19 Catholic League press release against Sebelius's appointment, apparently as evidence that the nomination has "triggered a bit of a battle."  But then you have this:


U.S. Senator Pat Roberts and U.S. Senator Sam Brownback today congratulated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius on her nomination by President Obama to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“Congratulations to Governor Sebelius on being nominated to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services,” the Senators said. “It’s an honor for the State of Kansas to have an elected official appointed to the president’s cabinet. We are hopeful Governor Sebelius will be a voice for Kansas and rural America at the Department. We look forward to working with her on issues important to the state including a National Cancer Institute Designation at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.”

The emphasis is mine, and here's the reason: it's hard to claim that a Catholic-on-Catholic fight over the nomination is about to start if Senator Sam Brownback is lauding the appointment.  Brownback, whose conversion to Catholicism in 2002 was sponsored by his friend then-Senator Rick Santorum and completed by Opus Dei member Rev. John McCloskey, has near-impeccable credentials as far as Congressional Catholics go.  Politico itself reported on a recent controversy in which Brownback's name and signature were used in a fund-raising letter that accused others in Congress of basically being Catholic in name only; though his office has sort of denied involvement, they've never really said they disagree with the message.

There are currently 25 Catholics in the U.S. Senate.  Sixteen of these are Democrats, and among them I couldn't find one I thought likely to vote down a Democratic president's Catholic nominee for HHS.  Of the remaining nine Republican senators, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better representative of the "traditional Catholic right" than Sam Brownback.  And if he's supporting Sebelius, I'm interested to know who, exactly, Ben Smith thinks might cast a religiously-based vote against her.

I get that writing headlines about a possible religious war is more fun than reporting the ho-hum expected news of Sebelius's appointment -- but who said political blogging was supposed to be all fun and games?  Better yet, who said you didn't have to do your homework?

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And Brownback wants her gone so he can be the Governor. ta da. I think she'll be get through the hearings just fine.

Great post.

Hey, I posted some Recovery Act data, in case anyone needs to know what their state is getting for Medicaid, specifically. Well, unless their state totally screws it up. Then they get nada.
It should be illegal for any religious group to affect such government decisions! Wasn't there something something about separation of Church and state?

We're getting out of hand, here.

Great post on another tough subject. Where were brains like yours when I was sleeping through Poli Sci?
Hurrah numbers! I just visited and feasted, Wakingup. Yay.

Zuma, there's a chance I would have been napping right along. Particularly early morning classes. Argh, theory puts me to sleep every time.

Aaron, Politico takes no note of me, and usually I take little note of them. It's not personal; they get paid to do this stuff and therefore should have some higher standards.
I'm glad Sebelius is getting a well-deserved post. A popular Dem in Kansas? You know the lady has some talent.

Unlike the self-important wankers at Politico.
I could never figure out how us Kansans who never ever vote dem
for president got Sebelius as Governor. I admire her though as does
most everyone I know. No doubt in my mind she'll get thru the approval if in fact she's nominated. Funny, didn't even know she was Catholic.
Well, since you ask—I don't have to do my homework. You seem to do it for me. Thanks!

(I did find myself wondering if there's ever an attempt in these hearings to plant/coax/induce a phony debate on a well-understood topic... on the theory that, to twist a phrase, you want to debate them there so you don't have to debate them here, close to home, on some other issue that might be more touchy.)
Yeah, I think she deserves some kind of promotion, Stim, though now that it's closer to said-and-done, I can say I'd rather she was going into the Senate -- particularly since I'm looking at living in Kansas under possibly-to-be Gov. Brownback in not too long.

Yeah, Trig, I've wondered the same, but I think it has a lot to do with gubernatorial races being in off presidential years for Kansas.

Kent, do you mean in the nomination hearings, or the online hearings? The nomination battles have turned almost completely into grandstanding occasions for Senators, I think, so that they can show their bonafides on whatever topic off to the voters -- and you're right, there's less danger of airing an opinion there, in a controlled atmosphere, and testing how it gets played at home, than in waiting for the campaign.
Online hearings? What are those?

I mean the Congressional hearings (as seen on C-SPAN, which I know is a lot grandstanding). What I meant was that given the propensity of some to want to visibly ask probing questions, I wonder if anyone ever just tees up a false controversy that they feel qualified to disspell, just for the purpose of allowing the questioners to ask their obligatory probing questions and so they'll be ready for answers on that controversy, in order to distract from other controversies they'd rather not answer about. Depends on how well the opposition is doing their homework and how hungry they are for low-hanging fruit... It was just idle speculation. It's just that the area is so rich with the opportunity for posturing I'm never quite sure what the trendy options are to look for.
Thank you so much for this article. Washington seems to specialize in creating tempests in teapots. I sometimes wonder if it’s not the unofficial cottage industry of the town.

This particular issue regarding Governor Kathleen Sebelius made me think of the changes that have taken place since 1960 when then candidate for President John F. Kennedy needed to clarify his Catholicism to the nation. Please forgive the extended quote,

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

The nomination of Kathleen Sebelius and the controversy it is supposed to stir within the ranks of the Catholic Church illuminates quite a difference in the times.

Thanks once again for your outstanding work.
Brownback probably breathed a sigh of relief when Sebelius finally officially acknowledged her acceptance of appointment as H&HS Secretary on February 27th. She was considered the top contender for his Senate seat and would have been a distraction to his gubernatorial candidacy.

This opens the way for Jerry Moran, 1st District congressman, to take the Senate seat, though the largely delusional "Tanker" Todd Tiahrt, (R-Boeing/Koch Industries) has aspirations to the same post.

The frothing-at-the-mouth radical right have manufactured a hypothetical fight against her nomination because of her continuous failure to kow tow to their anti-choice demands. They have vowed that they will bring up a dinner which late-term pregnancy termination provider Dr. George Tiller had at the Governor's mansion will be raised as an issue. In fact that dinner was purchased at an auction held by the nominally non-partisan Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus (endorses mostly Democrats) in 2005 and not exercised until 2007. The mansion is open for hosting all sorts of events on a non-partisan basis, so this is typical nutcase hyperventilation.

The convert Brownback is hardly a "traditional" Catholic, nor are Opus Dei members, who could be seen as cultists. During the Republican primary debates, Brownback also raised his hand to affirm his disbelief regarding the theory of evolution, along with Mike Huckabee and the even nuttier nativist Tom Tancredo.
Intelligent post - thanks.
Rated. I assume someone will be named at some point in time Saturn.
Grade A reporting.
And what can traditional, non traditional, left, right, centrist, real or unreal Catholics do about her nomination anyway? Other than blow a lot of hot air and pontificate and preach and judge and scorn and alienate, they cannot do anything. Except to continue driving away church members with their confusing messages.

All my life I have been taught as a Catholic to follow 8 Beatitudes in life, ie, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, and, yet, those politicos who espouse the social policies that support the dignity and quality of life are deemed "evil" and we should not vote for them or risk being denied communion and/or church membership, though, unless they take affadavits on the way up to communion, how would they know who we vote for? Instead, we are to vote for war hungry, angry, old men who are obsessed with earmarks and tax breaks as the answer to all financial and economic woes and to a radical right wing, empty headed, foul mouthed, racist, bigot, who spews hate and lies.

I am not impressed with the Catholic Church's position on politics, or for that matter, the lack of social action that used to give her a kind of "moral authority" to support her positions. Perhaps, I should say "he" and "his", since the Church does not really recognize women except for anatomy.
Where is Howard Dean? Why didn't the alleged liberal in the White House appoint Howard Dean to HHS?

Why did President Sunshine ditch Dean?
Bloggers should do the research...otherwise they'll get called out by other Bloggers, such as your fabulous self, for making us look bad.

Nice article.

Ah, Kent, it was just me mis-understanding -- not online hearings like congressional hearings, but hearings like "airings." What you say makes sense, and I agree that there's a lot of posturing and probably some set-up questions from certain committee members for the benefit of others.

Thanks, Dennis. That's a great JFK quote, from the ministers conference, right? You're right that it does mark a major move, as did the nearly non-issue of John Kerry's Catholicism in 2004.

Frank, Todd Tiahrt is my nightmare, as a Kansan. I hope he does run in the GOP primary and takes enough votes from Brownback to get Moran nominated. If it must be a Republican governor, I'd pick Moran over the rest any day. And Brownback says he isn't Opus Dei, just to be clear. The Tiller thing -- I don't get how that can be an issue, except that it sounds "bad," since he was invited on the basis of having won tickets via raffle for a dinner at the governor's mansion. But things like that may be the reason she's decided not to run for Senate.

Thanks, Paul, and Blue.

Tommye Jean, I think you've got it exactly right: at this moment, there's not a lot that will helpfully be done by either side on this nomination, and any kind of fight that would emerge would simply be damaging. Good thoughts.

I really don't know the full story between the Obama camp and Gov. Dean, but there certainly seems to be some kind of bad blood there. I don't know that he was ditched, because I don't think he ever expected the post, or any post. If things go badly, though, perhaps he'll find a place in the administration during Term 2 (if there is such). Or... I suppose it's a major reach, but the Health Czar job is still open.

Thanks, Hipployta! I appreciate your comments, always.
I have been wondering about Dean and his disappearance from the scene. Bad blood? The reason to get post should be efficiency and capability. What does blood have to do with it?
I did not mean "blood" "blood" of course. Good reporting. The things one misses!Rated of course.
At this point, who really cares? It would be nice if Obama could put his staff together before the leaves of summer darken, and putting "Mad Dog" Dean on ice is a good idea.

Once this "dream/nightmare" team is FINALLY in place, it will be interesting to see how its collective intelligence will come to grips with the fact that Obama is royally destroying our country and its future with his lunatic policies. The stock market mini-crash is just the beginning.
No fight. She's a shoe in. People have other things to fight over. Like the budget and everything else Obama wants to do.
Rama, I'm not sure what the whole deal was, but as far as bad blood goes -- it can be relevant for who gets what post, I guess, if the nominee wouldn't be able to get along with the president (or chief of staff, which I think is the issue here) or vice versa. I wish I did know the story on Dean, though, because it seems interesting and particularly relevant.

Gordon, I think he's actually ahead of the curve on cabinet nominations and such. It's only been, what, forty days?

Let's hope, Lisa.
Looking at that list of all the Congressional Catholics, it's interesting to note just how many more Democrats than Republicans are Catholic in both Houses of Congress. It's like 3 to 1. As a (mainly cultural) Catholic myself, it's heartening to realize that the newer fundamentalist strain of Catholicism hasn't really supplanted that old boots-on-the-ground worker movement kind of religion that Catholics used to be associated with. I read somewhere a few years ago that the different religious denominations used to be fairly easily classified as left and right (Jews, Catholics, Methodists=left, Baptists, evangelicals, etc.=right) but that now each and every denomination has its own left and right. That sounded accurate to me, at least within Catholicism.
I had heard whisper of it too ..the bad vibes between Dean and Rham, and could not quite wrap my head around it at all. I have been an early Dean supporter and replay the sound bite many times to see what the fuss was all about which resulted in the 2006 removal. Weak at best. This "not getting along" with people happens to many highly competent people , who by virtue of their abilities are less "controllable". Id hate to even think that such a reason could keep competence away.
well i know absolutely nothing about the governor. she's from kansas , and the band kansas was from kansas. dorothy was from kansas. she had toto. i'm not sure where the band toto was from. sebelius sounds like something the dermatolgist removes. that being said i'm not sure i can support her, seeing how medicaid/medicare fall under her department i don't know if she's up to it. but that really doesn't seem to matter to the administration. so i guess as long as she's paid her taxes she's a shoe in or should i say ruby slipper.
The nomination looks like a sure thing to WVFC:
Gov. Sebelius has some cred to back her up. She was a state legislator for eight years and then, to pull a Wiki quote: "In 1994 she left the House to run for state insurance commissioner and stunned political forecasters by winning – the first time a Democrat had won in more than 10 years. She is credited with bringing the agency out from under the influence of the insurance industry. She refused to take campaign contributions from insurers and blocked the proposed merger of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas, the state's largest health insurer, with an Indiana-based company. The decision by Sebelius marked the first time the corporation had been rebuffed in its acquisition attempts."

I'm from Kansas and my mom loved Sebelius as Ins. Commish. The BC/BS merger was considered a done deal and, to a couple of my old classmates who worked there, their jobs seemed lost, until Sebelius refused to allow it.

She also regularly enrages the Right in my home State, which number many. She has blocked and was poised to continue to block the "clean" coal-fired power plants projected in southwest Kansas (and if there's a better location to plant dozens of windmills, it's only further south on western OK and western TX). She also vetoed HS SB 389, a new late-term abortion bill due to its unconstitutional elements, its likelihood to lead to lengthy and costly litigation, and the fact that it opened up more and new avenues of exposing people's health records up for review.

Even though the great "they" tout her pro-choice stance as a crippling negative, she actually has great support from at least one side of the Catholic aisle (and yes, there are two). As a B&R (born and raised) Catholic, I know from experience how many of my mom's friends were on birth control; and of a few (shh) that had to have abortions. There are "left"-leaning Catholics who love their church and don't choose to be hypocritical. Just because the Archbishop in KC denounced her doesn't mean that Gov. Sebelius cannot be considered a devout Catholic.

So let us raise a glass of good table red, and pass the bread. I think Kathleen Sebelius will make a fine Secretary of HHS!
Just read your Tags, Saturn -- You've outdone yourself!

Shine on!
"Looking at that list of all the Congressional Catholics, it's interesting to note just how many more Democrats than Republicans are Catholic in both Houses of Congress. It's like 3 to 1."

Good to know.
As an interesting Howard Dean follow up, HuffPo has an "exclusive" with him today.

Connie Mack, I didn't know you were a fellow Kansan!
Rock Chalk Jayhawk, SS!

(Did you see what we did to Mizzou yesterday? Didja? Didja?)
Is there a website called Catholics Against Pedophile Priests? Just asking. They seem to be all up everybody else's butts and into everyone else's business except their own.
"They seem to be all up everybody else's butts ..."

as it were, ay, Rose?

yeah, my ma yesterday (she's 81) says she suspects the Catholics like to get all up in arms re: abortion to take attention away from their pedophiliac problems.
Zumalicous got it right, the effects of politics and the misunderstanding of such to be jaded in the effect of the sort is just politics as usual in DC. Reasons are always given but not understood.Powers granted may be misguided and lead to dysfunctional and power grabbing individuals, it's definitely a strange world inside the beltway.