Obama Banks on Sebelius Departure to Take Heat Off Democrats

The departure of Kathleen Sebelius from President Barack Obama’s cabinet removes a focal point for criticism over Obamacare’s troubled rollout, right at a moment when the White House can blunt attacks with enrollment numbers that exceeded targets.

Senate confirmation hearings on the president’s choice to succeed Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, will give Republicans days of media exposure for their criticism of a program that remains unpopular.

Those hearings will now be timed months ahead of midterm congressional elections, helping diminish the impact on voters.

Sebelius’s departure also addresses demands from some Democrats for a change at the department to demonstrate that Obama recognizes the difficulties, political and practical, caused by the flawed startup for a law that is the president’s most prominent achievement.

Sebelius “has become a lightning rod,” Chris Lehane, a communications adviser in the Clinton administration, said. Now “it’s not as easy to use her as a foil in the fall because she’s hit her mark and she won’t be there.”

The Obama administration set the stage for the exit hours before news of it leaked out. Sebelius, 65, delivered to a Senate committee the word that enrollment in Obamacare’s health plans had reached 7.5 million, exceeding a first-year projection of 7 million made by the Congressional Budget Office.