Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., called for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign for “gross incompetence” more than two weeks ago, and her bruising testimony before a House panel Wednesday left him just shaking his head.
Roberts is from the same state as Sebelius, is close to her family and supported her confirmation so his recent call for her resignation was particularly stinging.
After watching her on the firing line Wednesday apologizing for the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov, the website registering consumers in new insurance exchanges, he appeared hesitant to pile on.
“I saw that she got a little upset and that's too bad,” he said. “We'll have her on the Senate side along with [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator] Marilyn Tavenner and it will be a repeat, and maybe we can sift through all that testimony and get a little more pertinent responses.”
When asked if he still believed she should be fired, he hesitated.
“Go through a laundry list of things ...,” he said before stopping himself. “I'd just rather not say.”
Later Wednesday evening, he responded to a Washington Examiner tweet summing up his reticence to take an additional shot at Sebelius by calling her testimony “shocking and sad.”
“I read the full #Sebelius testimony. Shocking & Sad. Now working on questions to ask her Weds.,” he tweeted.
Sebelius is expected to testify next on Nov. 6 before the Senate Finance Committee on the rollout of Obamacare, committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in a statement.
After her performance Wednesday, Sebelius was facing mounting pressure from high-ranking Republicans to resign. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the top Republican on the Senate health panel, was the latest to to join the call.
“Mr. President, at some point there has to be accountability. Expecting this secretary to be able to fix what she hasn't been able to fix during the last three-and-a-half years is unrealistic," he said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "It's throwing good money after bad. It's time for her to resign — someone else to take charge."
On Oct. 11, a week-and-a-half into the rocky rollout of the online Obamacare exchanges, Roberts blamed Sebelius for a “complete failure” to address the website’s issues, opting to instead to spend her time on “The Daily Show" and a national tour to promote enrollment on a broken sign-up system.
“This week, Sebelius continued wasting taxpayer dollars on advertising and promotional tours,” Roberts said in a statement. “This included failed rallies at NFL stadiums and appearances on comedy shows to promote enrollment while at the same time, Americans were unable to sign up for the health plans as promised.”
“Even [Daily Show host] Jon Stewart didn't think it was a laughing matter,” he added.
If President Obama fires Sebelius, she would be the first cabinet secretary publicly terminated since President Nixon showed then-Interior Secretary Wally Hickel the door in 1970 after the press published a letter in which he chided Nixon for failing to listen to America's youth on ending the Vietnam War. Plenty of cabinet secretaries have been pushed out but they have all chosen to resign.