Is Sen. Brownback waffling about Sebelius at HHS?

McClatchy NewspapersApril 24, 2009 

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback could be waffling a bit in his support for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to run the Health and Human Services Department.

Congressional Quarterly reports that the Republican lawmaker plans to think more about his endorsement in light of her veto Thursday of late-term abortion legislation.

"It makes it harder and harder," Brownback, an abortion opponent, told the magazine.

Neither the senator nor an aide would comment about whether he is reconsidering his support.

The White House had no comment as well. Sebelius is the last vacancy in President Obama's cabinet.

It's tradition for legislators to embrace presidential nominees from their states, regardless of party. Only twice in the last 20 years has a senator from one party failed to back a home state nominee from the opposing party, according to Congressional Research Service.

One of those cases was in 2001, when Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Democrat from Missouri, voted against the confirmation of former Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, also of Missouri, who had been nominated for attorney general.

In Brownback's case, he is one of the Republican Party's leading social conservatives and has been under pressure from that wing to disavow his support of the Democratic governor.

Though Sebelius has a reputation for working across party lines, she is anathema to abortion opponents because she supports abortion rights.

They're especially put off by her association with Dr. George Tiller, who operates a clinic in Wichita where he has performed late-term abortions. He has also been a political contributor.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele have called upon the president to withdraw her nomination.

The bill that Sebelius vetoed would have imposed requirements on physicians who perform late-term abortions. The procedure is outlawed except in cases where the woman's life is in danger or she faces serious medical consequences.

The legislation would have required physicians to file state health reports explaining the medical diagnoses that necessitated a late-term abortion.

Sebelius said she thought the bill probably was unconstitutional and would also "lead to the intimidation of health care providers and reduce access to comprehensive health care for women."

Senate Democrats need 60 votes to confirm her on Tuesday when her nomination is scheduled to be debated. They hold 56 seats. The chamber's two independents generally side with them as well.

At least four Republicans, including Brownback, have committed to voting for her. The others are his Kansas colleague, Sen. Pat Roberts, an old friend of the Sebelius family, and the two party moderates from Maine, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. There could be others as well.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said Sebelius supporters have enough votes to confirm

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