Sebelius entered the Cabinet in 2009, three months into Obama’s presidency, as a well-regarded former governor of conservative Kansas. She is leaving after months of intense criticism over the botched rollout last fall of the insurance marketplace.
During the firestorm, Obama made clear to his aides that he would not seek the resignation of his health secretary, and her departure is timed to brighter news for the White House as enrollment soared late last month.
Still, some White House allies said Thursday night that the troubled launch of HealthCare.gov had heightened tensions between Sebelius and the president’s staff members, who had become increasingly mistrustful of the department she led. Some Democrats, meanwhile, had argued privately that someone should be held accountable for the problems with the federal insurance exchange.
According to federal health officials, Sebelius approached Obama in early March and told him that, with the insurance enrollment period ending that month, the time had come for new leadership at HHS, the government’s largest domestic agency.
When the healthcare.gov website launched in late 2013, the White House said their enrollment goal was 7 million. After a problematic rollout of a website that only worked part of the time and was fraught with security problems, both the HHS and White House were mum about enrollment numbers for the last several months. According to some in the White House Press corps, the Administration became increasingly uncomfortable after Sebelius badly fumbled what was supposed to be a sympathetic interview on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in October.
This has also led to speculation that the White House was holding out for any semblance of good news to show Sebelius the door. That opportunity came earlier this month when after months of silence on the actual number of enrollees on the Obamacare website, President Obama held a press conference at the White House, claiming that exactly 7.1 million individuals enrolled through healthcare.gov- although they declined to break down how many of the enrollees had previously had insurance that was cancelled.
The top choice by the White House to replace Sebelius is reportedly OMB director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was reportedly responsible for directing the National Parks Service to shut down open-air war memorials during last year's government 'shutdown' (in which an estimated 17% of the federal government had actually shut down).