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GOP Objection Delays Senate Vote on Sebelius Nomination

By Drew Armstrong, CQ Staff

April 23, 2009 -- Senate Republicans objected Thursday to a confirmation vote on the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services, prompting Democrats to threaten a cloture vote to force the issue.

"We are still hopeful that we will get an agreement to consider the nomination, but if we cannot, Senator Reid expects to file cloture," said Regan Lachapelle, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We are confident that we will have the 60 votes needed for confirmation."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., objected to Reid's unanimous consent request to set a floor vote, saying Republican senators had not had the time they needed to review her nomination, according to his spokesman Don Stewart.

In a meeting with reporters later Thursday, Reid said he was "confident that the Republicans will let us move forward on that quickly." He added that he was "concerned" about how long it was taking to get Sebelius and other nominees in place. "I think they should allow us to have a vote on that today," he said.

"We're going to move forward on her as quickly as we can, but that's not going to hold up anything we do on health care," Reid added.

The delays will likely push Sebelius' confirmation until next week at the earliest. If Democrats do have to file cloture to limit debate on the nomination, it could take several days to run out the clock on the procedural motions and votes.

"I expect we'll ... vote on her nomination next week," said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Obama nominated Sebelius, governor of Kansas, on March 2. The Finance Committee approved the nomination April 21 by 15–8.

It was unclear how many Republican senators objected to scheduling a vote on Sebelius. When Democrats tried to get a committee vote on Sebelius before the spring recess, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., objected.

Bunning would not say if he was one of those objecting to the floor vote, but said that he thought several senators had.

Anti-abortion groups have urged Republicans to oppose Sebelius, a Democrat who supports abortion rights. They cite her acceptance of campaign funds years ago from George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who has performed abortions late in a pregnancy. If Republicans filibuster, Sebelius would need 60 votes to be confirmed.

Two GOP senators voted for Sebelius in the Finance Committee—Pat Roberts of Kansas and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

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